Friday, April 26, 2013

The Illusionist

It's the classic story. Poor boy meets rich girl. Girl's parents forbid them from seeing each other. Boy promises to run away with girl. Boy leaves alone instead. Fifteen years later, boy returns, a skilled illusionist, and meets girl again, ready to make good on his promise, just as she's about to marry the Crown Prince of Austria.

Alright, so maybe that's not that classic, but every good story needs a good twist, right?

He remembers her, but does she?

Edward Norton plays Edward, or Eisenheim - what he is known as when he becomes an illusionist. Eisenheim's show becomes very popular when he returns to Vienna. So popular, in fact, that he attracts the attention of the Crown Prince Leopold (Rufus Sewell). Leopold is one of those not-so-nice princes, for instance, he plans on overthrowing his father, the Emperor, and his plan hinges on his marriage to the Duchess Sophie Von Teschen (Jessica Biel). When Eisenheim discovers his childhood sweetheart's impending marriage, he not so inadvertently humiliates the Crown Prince, prompting him to retaliate. He uses the Chief Inspector Uhl (Paul Giamatti) -- who is more his personal assistant than anything else -- to that purpose. When he is instructed to shut down Eisenheim's show, Uhl is conflicted, as he is fascinated by Eisenheim and his tricks, but loyal to the Prince; suddenly he finds himself caught in the middle of their two-man war.

The Crown Prince doesn't know what he's getting into.

Eisenheim is certainly meant to be the main character here, but he's a pretty classic magician; mysterious, unreadable. We only get glimpses into his mind as often as other characters do - not often at all. Thank goodness then that Uhl is there to carry the movie. You think the main character is the one who carries the movie? It is an illusion. Paul Giamatti is us; trying to keep up, trying to piece together the mystery - enjoying it immensely. He is our connection to the strange world of The Illusionist. He is also convincingly British.

Inspector Uhl brings the story to life.

Not quite so much for fellow Americans Norton and Biel. Thankfully though, they both under-did the accents; much smarter than overdoing it, and it works out fine. Otherwise, they are very fine. I'm not a fan of Jessica Biel, but I don't mind her in this movie at all, and her costumes are so gorgeous. Norton is a great brooding magician. Subtle and... I want to say "deadpan" but that gives a bad impression... is there a way deadpan can be good? At any rate, it gives me the impression that the character is putting on an act, and that's a good thing. Rufus Sewell is definitely a good thing. He always makes a wonderful villain, but here he's especially good. Best of the bunch though, is certainly Giamatti, the only truly involving character, with his perfect subtleties, and the second best eye-roll ever.

Edward Norton looks the part, and performs some impressive illusions.

Much further than this, I cannot go, for fear of exposing too much of the plot that you should just watch for yourself. This pic is rated PG-13 for some sexuality and violence, and besides one scene which I always easily skip through, it's a pretty clean, if dark and mellow movie. Visually, it's very unique, using sepia tints and vignetting to create a pleasing old-fashioned feel, and early 1900's costumes, buildings, and scenery are all very pretty to look at. And the story... mysterious, magical, and... well...

I will leave off with this: highly recommended.

-- 3.5/5 stars
Review number five for this!


  1. LOVED this film. It was visually stunning and had a wonderful story as well - plus the cast? It's awesome!

    1. Haha, yep! I always feel like laughing along with Paul Giamatti at the end. :)