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While most people are anxiously awaiting Christopher Nolan’s The Prestige (and I’m sure it will be great), I hope most do not miss The Illusionist simply because it looks similar. Yes, the trailers do look kind of the same but after bearing witness to this film’s illusion it is safe to say they will be quite different. From what I have heard, The Prestige is a diverse approach to the same era in magic. From what I can tell, The Prestige looks to be a slicker film where as The Illusionist is a smaller and more character focused film.
The Illusionist is set in Vienna, where a magician, Eisenheim (Norton), tries to woo his childhood sweetheart and defend himself from people who think his magic is a trick of the hand. The premise is intriguing and even better is the picture’s excellent cast. In fact, if the casting had gone any other way, this film might have not been even close to this good. Seeing Edward Norton and Paul Giamatti on screen together is absolutely unbelievable and worth every penny. I love both of these actors and seeing them play off of each other so beautifully in the same film is kind of what made seeing Pacino and De Niro in films like The Godfather Part II and Heat so exhilarating. The supporting cast delivers solid performances as well. Surprisingly even Jessica Biel is completely adequate in her role; it would seem she is making a modest recovery after near career suicide with Stealth.
The Illusionist has a bit of a slow pace at times but the screenplay is well written and there is quite a lot that happens in the nearly two hour film. Director Neil Burger (Interview With the Assassin) also keeps things interesting by pulling several magic tricks just like Eisenheim does.
There are several very cool visual effects, beautiful shots, and a fulfilling end, something that is rare these days in Hollywood.
I also really like the score done by none other than Philip Glass. The composer did a phenomenal job with The Hours and Koyaanisqatsi and he fits right in with the lush period film that is The Illusionist.
Never once does The Illusionist lose the mystery behind the magical sense of Eisenheim’s world. The film consistently dabbles in the mystical and remains interesting throughout.
The strange thing about this picture is that while it continued to dazzle me, the film as a whole, while quite good, still feels a bit like a cheap card trick. Sure it is entertaining and well handled, but at the end of the film you don’t feel like you have witnessed something truly spectacular. Perhaps it was the fact that the love story overshadows the strange, dark magic of Eisenheim, which is by far the most intriguing part of the story. Every time Burger strays away from Norton’s character performing on the stage, it is hard to fight the incredible urge for them to get back to what this movie does best.
The Illusionist may not be as astonishing as David Copperfield, but it is definitely one magic show worth checking out, letâ€™s just hope it doesnâ€™t get lost in the shuffle when Prestige hits.
Running Time: 110 minutes
Release Date: August 25, 2006 (Limited Phoenix)
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for some sexuality and violence.
Distributor: Yari Film Group Releasing
Reviewed by: Brandon Hill
Directed by: Neil Burger
Starring: Edward Norton, Paul Giamatti, Jessica Biel, Rufus Sewell
Produced by: Brian Koppelman, David Levien, Michael London, Cathy Schulman, Bob Yari