February 1, 2007

The Illusionist - $8

Eisenheim the Illusionist is a gifted magician and we begin this story in Vienna in the turn of the century, Eisenheim is in the middle of a performance. The crowd looks on in captivated silence as Eisenheim is conjuring something on the stage, it is clearly a woman based on the comments from the crowd. Before we are able to see for ourselves the Chief Inspector arrests Eisenheim for disrupting the peace, nearly causing a riot.

The Illusionist proceeds from this point by taking us through a series of flash backs. As a teenager Eisenheim loved a girl named Sophie but as is the theme in many period pieces the two were from very different social classes and had to hide their relationship. After an unsuccessful attempt to run away together Sophie is taken away and Eisenheim is threatened with imprisonment if he ever sees her again.

Flash forward to an evening in Vienna in the present, (not as far into the present as the start of the movie so still the past I guess) Inspector Uhl, the Chief Inspector, is tasked with making sure the theatre Eisenheim will be performing in is secure. That night's performance will be honoured by the presence of Crown Prince Leopold. Inspector Uhl being an amateur magician himself meets and is fond of Eisenheim immediately. That night at the performance the illusionist asks for a volunteer from the audience the Crown Prince offers up his fiance. As she comes closer to the stage you realize it is Sophie, Eisenheim's teenage love.

From here this movie takes some mildly predictable turns. Sophie and Eisenheim begin meeting privately, Inspector Uhl finds out and is forced to investigate Eisenheim. Despite these moments of unsurprising plot development The Illusionist offers enough unpredictable elements to keep the audience engaged and interested throughout.

This is a visually well made movie, the sets and costumes do not overwhelm the story as in some period pieces but they are done very well. The Illusionist was fun to watch, it was entertaining in almost every way and yet there are really 2 main reasons I recommend it as highly as I do. They are Ed Norton and Paul Giamatti.

Norton plays Eisenheim in what may be the most understated role of his career but it is a treat to watch. Norton is nearly perfect in this role as he resists the tempatation to make Eisenheim into a larger than life character. The subtleties of his performance make the movie worth watching on their own.

Giamatti plays Inspector Uhl and really ties the whole movie together. He convinces you that he is at once loyal to the Crown Prince and eager to please him to advance his own ambitions and yet he is also sympathetic and fond of Eisenheim and does his best to protect Eisenheim from the Crown Prince's suspicions.

Rufus Sewell's performance is worth mentioning as well. He plays Crown Prince Leopold who is the polar opposite character to Eisenheim, full of emotion and power and played well by Sewell. Sophie is played by Jessica Biel and though many call her performance poor I thought she was adequate. Her part was small enough that though her performance dwarfs that of her cast mates in it's quality it does not take very much away from the story.

Overall this movie is well worth your time. I put The Illusionist on my 'Watch It' list and give it a value of $8.


Coutts said...

cool. you made me want to watch it. there is a big giamatti bandwagon, but for good reason. i enjoy him immensely.

Tony Tanti said...

Yeah, Giamatti is great, he's one of the big reasons I disagree with the fad out there of hating Lady in the Water. Though I liked a lot of that movie anyway the Giamatti performance makes it at least respectable.

The Illusionist is very character driven and it gives the rare opportunity for actors to dominate which I enjoy.

Paddy C said...

Nice review, I agree totally, think Ed Norton and Paul Giamatti really worked well in this one. But it looks fantastic too, and the script really tells the story in an economical way, never wasting the audience's time, it's a quality movie.