Akshay Shah Reviews THE ILLUSIONIST (2006)
I love movies of all type for different reasons. Action movies to become stimulated physically(not double meaning intended), comedies to laugh my troubles away, suspense to sit on the edge of my seat. And ofcourse, I watch movies to escape from a humdrum and dangerous world. THE ILLUSIONIST is the ultimate in escape movies. It is gripping from he opening scene and the grip lasts until the final realization. The story is masterfully crafted and the screenplay intriguing. The special effects and illusions are entertainment enough. But all of this surrounded in the backdrop of the story, its movement from one idea to another is an added treat. First there is the marvelous acting of all the major actors, surrounded by great support. The cinematography and music are awesome. This movie is filled with entertainment, suspense, romance, sensuality tastefully done, treachery and surprises.
Having recently seen Christopher Nolanâ€™s utterly mesmerising masterpiece THE PRESTIGE, my curiosity for THE ILLUSIONIST(the â€œsmallerâ€ film from the two â€œmagicâ€ themed films) had certainly increased, and while THE ILLUSIONIST doesnâ€™t come close to the brilliance of THE PRESTIGE itâ€™s still worth a watch once.
Like THE PRESTIGE, this too is a period film, though most of the similarities between the two films are merely on paper, and the two films are diametrically different.
Edward Norton plays Eisenheim, the magician who lost his first love as a young boy because they were separated by classes, but years later when he is touring Vienna rediscovers her in the form of Princess Sophie (Jessica Beil). Unfortunately, Sophie is engaged to be married to the unseemly Prince Leopold (Rufus Sewell), who immediately takes a dislike to Eisenheim, chiefly because he fails to debunk his illusions. Prince Leopold, not one to do his own dirty work, relies upon Chief Inspector Uhl (Paul Giamatti) to handle Eisenheim.
Neil Burger has done a fantastic job adapting Steven Millhauserâ€™s short story, though in the end the movie did leave me somewhat under whelmed. Despite the entire film being so superbly put together, I felt like there was something â€œmissingâ€ in the bigger picture, though I think watching this film after THE PRESTIGE couldâ€™ve been the problem as I was expecting something slightly more complex from THE ILLUSIONIST. The comparisons between both THE PRESTIGE and THE ILLUSIONIST are natural, though the two movies are quiet different in more ways than one. While THE PRESTIGE was thought provoking look at madness, obsession and magic, the ILLUSIONIST is like a classic bedtime fable. THE PRESTIGE got very very bleak in parts, while THE ILLUSIONIST manages to maintain that lilting pace of a fable throughout as well.
The screenplay is detailed, and wonderfully written keeping the viewer involved throughout. The pace does slacken in parts, and the proceedings do get dreary, only to liven up at the right minute.
As a director Neil Burger does a great job as the director. He strikes the right ambience and â€œmoodâ€ for the film, and has captured the time period with Ã©lan. His direction is smooth for the most, though the film ends almost too suddenly. The â€œtwistâ€ in the finale comes draws an instant reminder to Shyamalan who uses an almost identical ploy in all his movies, and within the context of the movie it works remarkably well as the entire movie comes across as a â€œillusionâ€ as we realize that a lot of what weâ€™ve just seen is a illusion.
Edward Norton is fabulous here (when is he not) and delivers yet another worthy performance in his career. Eisenheim is a compelling and sympathetic hero, blessed with such unconventionally heroic talents, and Norton is just perfect for the part bringing a certain element of â€œmysteryâ€ with his mere presence.
Paul Giamatti is marvelous yet again, and plays his part to perfection. He towers in the scenes he shared with the other actors, and his facial expressions in the finale are just splendid. Despite being a supporting actor in the movie, he remains etched in the viewerâ€™s memory. There have been a number of criticisms about Giamatti and his â€œoveractingâ€ however I quiet like the strange quirks he brings to all his characters.
Jessica Biel is good in her part, though I found her quiet wooden at times. Rufus Sewell is a scene-stealer in a negative role, and is utterly convincing throughout.
Phillip Glassâ€™s background score is moody and effective. Technically the movie is a visual wonder. From Dick Popeâ€™s strikingly rich cinematography, Stevan Kovacik and Vlasta Svobodaâ€™s inspiring art-work to Ngila Dicksonâ€™s stunning costumes.
The special-effects are subtle and used to a pleasingly small degree, opting more for Norton’s actual skills and sleights of hand for a more realistic show. Further, the magic was merely the setting, a catalyst for the story to take hold and grow, not a crutch in which to support a flimsy production.
All up THE ILLUSIONIST is a well balanced and thoroughly enjoyable yarn which is no doubt worth a watch once, though in the end I didnâ€™t like it as much as I thought I would..