Starring: Edward Norton, Jessica Biel, Paul Giamatti, Rufus Sewell
Running time: 110 minutes
Directed By: Neil Burger
Written By: Neil Burger
The Illusionist fights a losing battle from the minute you press play. The automatic problem it has is that it is so similar to The Prestige that you instantly compare them. Unfortunately for The Illusionist, The Prestige is such a fantastic film; meaning from the start The Illusionist doesn't live up to expectations. I know you shouldn't really compare films but these two came out within six months of each other, both are period setting, and both about the art of illusion and magic. The Illusionist was released first, so maybe if you saw it first you will like it, however for those who saw it second will only be disappointed.
The Illusionist follows an illusionist called Eisenheim (Norton). As a child he fell in love with a young girl named Sophie. Their friendship was frowned upon due to their substantial class differences, so he found himself running from town to perfect a new found talent; magic. Fifteen years later he returns to Vienna to perform a new magic show. When he asks for a member of the audience as a volunteer, the new fiancée to the Crown Prince (Sewell) steps forward, she turns out to be none other than Sophie (Biel). Instantly their love for each other comes flooding back, and Eisenheim begins to mock her fiancée using his tricks. Knowing that Eisenheim is attempting to win his girls affections, the Crown Prince attempts to find out his secrets and shut him down using Chief Inspector Uhl (Giamatti). As Sophie begins to choose Eisenheim over the Crown Prince, Eisenheim must devise a plan to leave with his girl, especially since the Crown Prince is known for indulging in murder when he doesn't get what he wants.
I don't want to delve into too much detail of the plot as I don't want to give away whether or not Eisenheim is a master trickster or a man with supernatural power. The whole second half of the film Eisenheim raises spirits, and changes into a man of few words. Is it actually an illusion? This second half is where the film seems to run out of steam though. The film is based on a short story and it is very noticeable that it is as the film does begin to wear thin. The characters aren't very well developed and the plot seems very flat. Also the final twist to the film was very predictable, and came around all too easily. The characters spent the whole film unaware of what was going on and then all of a sudden someone understands it.
The acting was very average. Norton was not his usual self. His delivery of lines seemed to lack tension, but that could have been due to his accent he was putting on. In the second half however, where he mutters minimal words, he is much better as his eyes and facial expressions do the talking. Biel was average and shows that she can do period films as opposed to just teen romantic comedies. Giamatti is in first gear as was Rufus Sewell. I think overall the entire film was a disappointment really, but I think my problem is me comparing it to The Prestige, because I have to say this is nowhere near as good.
Some of the illusions are impressive, especially when Eisenheim removes his gloves, throws them in the air and they turn into crows. These tricks are all impressive but others, where he manipulates reflections in a mirror, have no explanation and it seems a little too unrealistic. This is where I much preferred The Prestige as at least they explained how the tricks worked, here he just raised spirits, and we never know how or why. I suppose maybe a magician never tells his secret.
I was expecting much more than what I ultimately got. I believe that I may have been harsh on this due to my love for Christopher Nolan's period magician piece; however this film could still have been as good if it had managed to make me believe in it. Unfortunately it did not. With a film exploring a plot like this I at least expect a fantastic pull-the-rug-from-underneath-me twist, but I'm afraid the ending seemed an easy way out and was guessed at the half way point. Regrettably The Illusionist failed to wow me.
2.5 / 5
Next film to review: THE ASSASSINATION OF JESSE JAMES BY THE COWARD ROBERT FORD