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Starring
Edward Norton
as Eisenheim

Paul Giamatti
as Chief Inspector Uhl

Jessica Biel
as Sophie

Rufus Sewell
as Crown Prince Leopold

Written and Directed
by Neil Burger

Running Time: 1:50

Rated PG-13
for some sexuality and violence.

A-


THE OPENING

The Illusionist was a terrific movie that immediately takes you into another world and doesn't let go.

THE STORY

Eisenheim and Sophie come from two different worlds (social classes) and of course are forbidden from seeing each other. The young magician leaves town and goes on a world wide trip to learn the ancient secrets of magic. Years later he travels to Vienna and finds Sophie engaged to the Crown Prince. Eisenheim and Sophie rekindle their past love for each other, but their secret is soon discovered by Inspector Uhl, who works for the town, but is really under the control of the Crown Prince. Once their secret is discovered, Eisenheim fears for Sophie's safety, a fear that comes to fruition one night when she is found murdered. Eisenheim falls into deep despair, but plots to bring down the man responsible for her death - the Crown Prince himself.

THE REVIEW

If you've watched a reasonable amount of films over the last decade, you won't be completely surprised by the twists and turns in The Illusionist. I had the story pegged from the start, but what amazed me was, I didn't care. I got so sucked in to the film from the opening frame that the fact that the story was predictable didn't bother me at all. The film is set in the 1880s and it looked like it was filmed back then. The movie felt like I was looking at a very old photograph. Between the beautiful sets, the costumes, the make-up and the acting, I really felt like I was back in the 19th century. I found it odd that although I knew where the story was headed, the fact that the movie simply looked so good was enough to win me over. That's a very rare thing with me, since to me, story is the biggest factor in enjoying this kind of movie. But that's not to say the story wasn't bad, because I heard the audience gasp more than once as more and more elements were revealed.

I think the other thing I really liked was the illusions. I'm generally a big fan of illusionists and am always trying to figure out how they do what they do. Now, I realize this is a feature film and with technology being what it is, you can pretty much make anything happen. But that still didn't take away from the fun when Eisenheim manages to grow an orange tree in the middle of nothing. Or manages to somehow make dead souls appear on stage. It wasn't so much that I believed in the trickery, it was that you can imagine what it would be like if you were there watching him perform. Like with the rest of the movie, from the opening shot I was drawn in and willing to accept whatever happened and throw myself fully into the film.

The actors were all wonderful. Edward Norton plays the elder Eisenheim with amazing presence. He is quiet but very strong willed. You can also see the brilliance in his eyes as he slowly plays everyone involved in the story. He is a puppet master, plain and simple and just when you think you've got him figured out, he changes everything. Jessica Biel plays the elder Sophie and does a commendable job. This isn't a role you would necessarily consider Biel for, considering her past, but it does show growth on her part. Paul Giamatti plays Inspector Uhl and this is probably his strongest character to date. And by strong, I mean the character is strong. For most of his films, at least the ones in recent memory, Giamatti plays loveable loser types. He always has an 'aw shucks' look on his face and will take a beating from some people, but win others over. In The Illusionist his Inspector, while doing the bidding of the Crown Prince, still stands his own ground and when push comes to shove, doesn't bow down to anyone. And finally, Rufus Sewell plays the Crown Prince, an all around mean and nasty man. There is nothing likeable about him and Sewell does not pull any punches, even when his back is against the wall. When you put together a top notch cast along with stunning visuals, and a strong story, you've got the makings of a great film. To think, if I hadn't figured out the story early on, this might have been one of the best films I've ever seen.

THE BOTTOM LINE

So overall, I truly enjoyed The Illusionist. As of right now I'm probably willing to go as far as saying it was the best time I've had at the movies this summer.

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reviewed 08/13/06

© 2006 Wolfpack Productions

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