The Illusionist: A Magical Adventure
by Alex Billington
September 4, 2006
The Illusionist is a film set in Vienna at the turn of the century in which mastermind magician Eisenheim (Edward Norton) dazzles audiences with his astonishing magic tricks while causing disruption in the eyes of Crown Prince Leopold (Rufus Sewell). Eisenheim reminisces about his childhood love Sophie (Jessica Biel), whose family was much wealthier than Eisenheim's so their love was forbidden. The Illusionist is a fantastic magical adventure that explores the trickery that allowed Eisenheim to both baffle his audiences and win back Sophie's heart. On top of it all, Eisenheim must battle opposition from the stubborn Crown Prince who is set to become engaged to Sophie.
The most exciting element of The Illusionist is the story itself. New director and screenwriter Neil Burger has adapted a short story into a plot that plays out perfectly on screen. The plot holds the viewer's interest and keeps even the keenest watchers guessing until the very end. This film has everything to make it really stand out: a mystifying story, phenomenal acting, and exquisite production design by the Czech Republic's Ondrej Nekvasil. The film benefits greatly from the authentic period costumes and locations used throughout. This is a fantastic final touch that really makes everything else great in the film stand out even more. It's considerably enjoyable to see a new time director and screenwriter put together something so profoundly visual as The Illusionist.
Edward Norton delivers an incredibly intellectual and inspiring performance. He fits perfectly in the role of the soft-spoken magician who can also project a powerful stage presence. His acting is undeniably believable and it becomes the highlight out of any of the characters in the film. Norton has played several unimpressive roles since Fight Club, however he has come out shining in The Illusionist. I also have a certain appreciation for Paul Giamatti, stemming largely from his excellent performance in Sideways. Again, in The Illusionist, Giamatti excels as the antagonist Chief Inspector Uhl simultaneously opposed to and intrigued by Eisenheim. Although Jessica Biel, as Eisenheim's love, was a strong addition, I found Rufus Sewell even more engaging as Sophie's would-be fiancÃ©e.
I expected that an independent film by a fairly new screenwriter / director would only be highly philosophical and intellectual and not as entirely enjoyable. The Illusionist went far beyond and presented a feature that, in addition, is highly entertaining, from the magic tricks and the visual effects to the directing and acting. You will walk out of the theater satisfied at a film that has kept you fully engaged and entertained for nearly two hours. It's rare than many independent films can do this, however The Illusionist is an exception that stands out brightly. I'm anxious to see what Neil Burger will do in the future. The Illusionist is a perfect start to the set of historical magician films soon to hit theaters, most notably The Prestige directed by Christopher Nolan being released on October 20th.
The Illusionist is an incredibly entertaining adventure led by the excellent Edward Norton and followed closely behind by Paul Giamatti and Rufus Sewell. Neil Burger has done well in adapting and directing an exciting film about love, magic, and power. From the production design to the enticing storyline, everything about The Illusionist is magical and fascinating. Definitely a suggested movie for any and everyone looking for an independent film that breaks the bounds of entertainment and intelligence.
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