Monday, September 04, 2006

My Take - The Illusionist

My Take on the Movies
A Mini-Review of
By: A. L. “Toni” Anderson

A somewhat matured Edward Norton (Primal Fear - 1996) stars as The Illusionist in this 2006 fantasy / drama. The screenplay is written by director Neil Burger (Interview with the Assassin - 2002), and is loosely adapted from Eisenheim the Illusionist, a short story by Pulitzer Prize winning author Steven Millhauser. Jessica Biel (7th Heaven) stars as Sophie, the childhood sweetheart of Eisenheim (a.k.a. Abramowitz). Rufus Sewell (A Knight’s Tale - 2001) is the Crown Prince Leopold, Sophie’s fiancé and Eisenheim’s nemesis. In the role of Chief Inspector of Police Uhl (who is under the Prince’s dark influence) is Paul Giamatti (The Lady in the Water - 2006).

At the dawn of the 20th century in Vienna, Austria, a son of the lower classes and the daughter of a duke reconnect after a years-long separation. In the intervening time, the boy has developed into a master magician with great powers. The girl has become a beautiful woman, engaged to a corrupt and abusive Crown Prince, heir to Austria’s throne. The two old friends are determined to be together, and the Prince is equally determined that they will not.

The time-appropriate costumes and the scenic countryside are beautiful. Glimpses into the lifestyles of European royalty and the accompanying opulence are magnetic. The film’s elements of romance and mystery only serve to enhance its unmistakable appeal. These ingredients, plus the underlying intrigue, all make for a spellbinding movie.

An integral part of the film is Eisenheim’s convincing stage act, consisting of well-crafted parlor tricks and eerie manifestations of the spirits of departed loved ones. Shortly after Sophie announces to the Prince her intention to leave him, her spirit becomes the most popular of those manifestations. The Chief of Police already has a consuming interest in the mechanics of Eisenheim’s illusions, and Sophie’s death just heightens his interest. Uhl’s desire to find the truth is in constant battle with his bought-and-paid-for loyalties to Prince Leopold.

I loved the magic, and the suspense. I loved the film’s intensity, and the period atmosphere. I especially loved the surprise ending. After watching previews for The Prestige (the story of a rivalry between two magicians), I questioned whether The Illusionist was some cheap knockoff, released in an opportunistic rush. I am now satisfied that this is the real deal—commendable acting within a well-developed plot. Even if you don’t have an interest in magic, this film is a winner. [1:50]

♠ ♠ ♠ ♠

[© 09/04/2006]


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