Review by Gordon Justesen
Stars: Edward Norton, Paul
Giamatti, Jessica Biel, Rufus Sewell
Director: Neil Burger
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 1.85:1
Studio: 20th Century Fox
Features: See Review
Length: 109 Minutes
Release Date: January 9, 2006
“Promise me you won’t do it again.”
“I promise you you’ll enjoy this next show.”
Like a magic trick itself, The Illusionist keeps us guessing as to what will be revealed by the end of the presentation. And like an audience member watching a magician perform on stage, you may find yourself surprised in the end by what the movie is really about. Though it pales in comparison to the other magic thriller of 2006, The Prestige, this is a highly enjoyable period piece with its own share of surprises.
The film also boasts some fantastic performances from actors who have expanded their range even further. Edward Norton, Paul Giamatti and Jessica Biel are each riveting in roles none of whom have portrayed. What’s more, the three American actors do a strong job of delivering convincing English accents.
Set in Vienna during the turn of the century, the film’s focus is that of a mysterious stage magician named Eisenheim (Norton), known to the masses as The Illusionist. Audiences who attend his performances are mesmerized beyond belief. That is, everyone except police Inspector Uhl (Giamatti), working on behalf of the Crown Prince Leopold (Rufus Sewell), who also doesn’t approve of Eisenheim.
Leopold is convinced beyond the shadow of a doubt that Eisenheim’s magic is nothing but fakery. He assigns Inspector Uhl to shut down any performance and have the man arrested. Leopold also sends his intended future wife, Princess Sophie (Jessica Biel), to his stage as a volunteer during a performance as a way of exposing Eisenheim as a fraud.
For Eisenheim, the moment proves to be a distraction, only because Sophie happens to be a woman he was madly in love with years earlier. Her sudden reappearance manages to rekindle a romance between the two. He urges her to leave Leopold, but she maintains that it can’t be done.
Without giving away too much, the rest of the story involves a murder, and it’s one that Prince Leopold intends to have Inspector Uhl tie Eisenheim to at any cost. But The Illusionist is about to reveal the truth behind the crime through a series of performances. Once the truth is revealed, you will find yourself amazed, then you’ll discover the real truth during the film’s final moments, which will leave you stunned.
With its fine directing, mysterious plot and a lineup of excellent performances, The Illusionist is a must see for those in search of a good plot trickery. It all adds up to a sweeping romantic mystery that you are bound to keep in your head long after you see it.
This is without question the most flawed video presentation I’ve seen in quite a while. Hopefully, the problems will lie within the Screener Disc copy I was sent, and the actual release will look far better. In the meantime, the presentation I saw was decent looking at times, but had one too many instances of murkiness and noticeable pixelation. Again, I’m hoping it was just due to the edition I was sent. The final product may end up looking way better.
The 5.1 mix on the disc is grandly satisfying. Mostly a dialogue driven film, the sound mix incorporates music playback very well and generates some nice intensity during the more suspenseful moments. Dialogue is heard in outstanding clarity as well.
Featured on this disc is a commentary with writer/director Neil Burger, as well as two very brief featurettes, “The Making of The Illusionist” and “Jessica Biel on The Illusionist”. Also featured are trailers for this and additional Fox titles.
The Illusionist is a wondrous art of cinematic magic. Edward Norton leads a fantastic cast in a thrilling period piece that will leave you stunned and amazed. Watch carefully!