The intricate spell of The Illusionist

18 03 2007

The Illusionist
The Illusionist casts an exquisitely bewitching spell with its dreamy atmosphere and pervasive sense of suspense.
Writer/director Neil Burger has fashioned a beautifully shot mystery, with precise and elegant attention to period detail, which heightens the sense of intrigue in this romantic thriller.
Set in Vienna circa 1900, the well-crafted tale is bolstered by the powerful performance of Edward Norton as a master magician named Eisenheim. Just as strong in their respective portrayals are Paul Giamatti as an ambitious but conflicted police inspector and Rufus Sewell as the villainous Prince Leopold.
At the insistence of the prince, Giamatti’s policeman closes down Eisenheim’s popular magic show, which is steeped with almost supernatural enchantments. The prince is engaged to marry the aristocratic Sophie (Jessica Biel), and when he sees her fascination with the seemingly inscrutable Eisenheim, he is increasingly motivated to end the illusionist’s career.
As it turns out, Eisenheim and Sophie were childhood friends whose close relationship was interrupted in their early teens by her high-born parents. Since then, Eisenheim devoted his energies to perfecting his magic skills. When he meets Sophie as an adult, he is sophisticated, handsome and the toast of the town. He uses his magic prowess to win her back.
After the two rekindle their affection, Leopold tries to run the prestidigitator out of town. Eisenheim, meanwhile, is bent on undermining the royal house of Vienna.
Though there is some occasionally stilted dialogue, a fascinating contest of wills ensues, with mesmerizing plot twists.
Based on Eisenheim, the Illusionist, a short story by Pulitzer Prize-winning author Stephen Millhauser, this suspenseful and stylish film has a welcome sense of originality given the derivative and predictable nature of so much summer fare. The story is rendered fluidly, with gorgeous production design, and the haunting score by Philip Glass adds to the spellbinding quality.
It’s a pleasure to see Norton deliver yet another remarkable performance. He shines in a wide range of disparate roles, from American History X to Fight Club to The Score.
The alluring and absorbing Illusionist proves that a film need not be mindless fluff or ridiculously far-fetched to qualify as escapist entertainment.
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