The Illusionist

"Weak"

The Illusionist Review


There's something in Paul Giamatti that was just made for the 19th century. With those slightly bulbous but penetrating eyes and stolid weariness, one can imagine him looking out of an old daguerreotype with hat in hand, an emblem of a less superficial age. So it's nice to see Giamatti (so often made to play the whiny comic relief) cast in the otherwise dismissible film The Illusionist as a gruff policeman in fin de siècle Vienna, dropping his voice into a lower register than usual and assuming an impressive stature; honorable but shaded with a tiny bit of incipient corruption. If only everything else in the film worked this well.

Based on a short story by Steven Millhauser, a Pulitzer winner given to tidy exposition and nostalgic settings, The Illusionist concerns a stage magician who was separated from the love of his love due to his peasant roots and her aristocratic family, only to meet her years later on stage, when she is betrothed to a villainous crown prince. The magician, Eisenheim, is played stiffly by Edward Norton, without a shred of humor or self-awareness. Somewhat in keeping with his performance is that by Jessica Biel as his beloved, Sophie von Teschen -- whose beauty helps brighten these lamp-lit rooms, but who is never close to believable as a Viennese noblewoman. Rather more in keeping with the spirit of the rather melodramatic story is Rufus Sewell, as the evil Crown Prince Leopold, who swans through the film with cigarette holder perched lightly in one hand, his face a deliciously, maliciously bored mask.

Sewell and Giamatti are about the only things livening up the attempt by director/writer Neil Burger (Interview with the Assassin) to spread Millhauser's brief fiction over the length of a feature. A lengthy prelude following Eisenheim and Sophie's young love is played out much longer than necessary, while Eisenheim's performances are padded beyond any possible audience interest. Every now and again, for the sake of drama, Leopold snarls at Giamatti's Chief Inspector Uhl to shut down this Eisenheim, who in his performances has gone out of his way to gall the prince, partially as a way of wooing Sophie. Everything in the film is handsomely mounted, with its sepia-tinted cinematography and unusually dramatic, strings-laden score by Philip Glass, but by the time it comes to the over-plotted and un-shocking bag-of-tricks conclusion, Burger's fussy look has started to feel more confining than beautiful.

For a time, The Illusionist is indeed able to conjure up some magic, the illusion of being an original and captivating film. Eisenheim has a nice scene when, at the start of a performance, the curtains draw back and he walks out, pulling his gloves off and abruptly throwing them into the audience, only to have them turn into black birds and flutter away. And Giamatti can at least be happy to have acquitted himself well in a film that, if anyone sees it, will hopefully result in him being offered fewer roles as the loveable loser. But as such things go, once The Illusionist's great reveal is uncovered, what comes then is not awe and astonishment so much as disappointment, tinged with boredom.

DVD extras include a commentary track and two behind-the-scenes featurettes.

Don't strangle her. She's purty.



The Illusionist

Facts and Figures

Run time: 110 mins

In Theaters: Friday 1st September 2006

Box Office USA: $39.7M

Box Office Worldwide: $86.9M

Budget: $40M

Distributed by: Yari Film Group

Production compaines: Yari Film Group

Reviews

Contactmusic.com: 2 / 5

Rotten Tomatoes: 74%
Fresh: 138 Rotten: 49

IMDB: 7.6 / 10

Cast & Crew

Director:

Starring: as Eisenheim, as Sophie, as Inspector Uhl, as Crown Prince Leopold, as Josef Fischer (as Edward Marsan), as Jurka, Aaron Taylor-Johnson as Young Eisenheim, as Young Sophie, as Doctor / Old Man, Vincent Franklin as Loschek, Nicholas Blane as Herr Doebler, Philip McGough as Dr. Hofzinser, as Count Rainer, Michael Carter as Von Thurnburg

Contactmusic


Links



Advertisement

New Movies

Murder on the Orient Express Movie Review

Murder on the Orient Express Movie Review

The latest adaptation of Agatha Christie's 83-year-old classic whodunit, this lavish, star-studded film is old-style...

Paddington 2 Movie Review

Paddington 2 Movie Review

The first Paddington movie in 2014 is already such a beloved classic that it's hard...

A Bad Moms Christmas Movie Review

A Bad Moms Christmas Movie Review

Everyone's back from last year's undemanding adult comedy, plus some starry new cast members, for...

Brawl in Cell Block 99 Movie Review

Brawl in Cell Block 99 Movie Review

Filmmaker S. Craig Zahler brought a blast of offbeat creativity to the Western genre two...

The Death of Stalin Movie Review

The Death of Stalin Movie Review

Fans of the film In the Loop and the TV series Veep will definitely not...

Call Me By Your Name Movie Review

Call Me By Your Name Movie Review

Set in northern Italy in the summer of 1983, this internationally flavoured drama is a...

Thor: Ragnarok Movie Review

Thor: Ragnarok Movie Review

The most riotously enjoyable Marvel movie yet, this action epic benefits hugely from the decision...

Advertisement
Breathe Movie Review

Breathe Movie Review

While this biopic has the standard sumptuous production values of a British period drama, it's...

The Snowman Movie Review

The Snowman Movie Review

With a cast and crew packed with A-list talent, this film seems like it should...

The Party Movie Review

The Party Movie Review

Comedies don't get much darker than this pitch-black British movie, written and directed by Sally...

The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected) Movie Review

The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected) Movie Review

Noah Baumbach (Frances Ha) is on his way to becoming the new Woody Allen, which...

6 Below Movie Review

6 Below Movie Review

Based on an astonishing true survival story, this film is subtitled "Miracle on the Mountain",...

Mother Movie Review

Mother Movie Review

Darren Aronofsky doesn't make fluffy movies, and has only had one genuine misfire (2014's Noah)....

Blade Runner 2049 Movie Review

Blade Runner 2049 Movie Review

It's been 35 years since Ridley Scott's 1982 sci-fi classic, which was set in 2019....

Advertisement
Artists
Actors
    Filmmakers
      Artists
      Bands
        Musicians
          Artists
          Celebrities
             
              Artists
              Interviews
                musicians & bands in the news
                  actors & filmmakers in the news
                    celebrities in the news

                      Go Back in Time using our News archive to see what happened on a particular day in the past.