Thursday, February 01, 2007


Sometimes there's truth in illusion

By Edward Copeland
Even though The Illusionist opened first, The Prestige garnered more attention last year, making this film seem as if it's the "other 19th-century magician movie." However, that label does a disservice to both films because aside from the time period and the occupation of the central characters, the two films couldn't be more different.

While The Prestige chronicled games of oneupmanship between battling magicians, The Illusionist at its heart really is a love story. What the two films do have in common though is that both are quite good.

Edward Norton stars as Eisenheim, the son of a poor carpenter who makes a name for himself as a master magician in Vienna only to discover that his once-lost love (Jessica Biel) is now the fiancee of a power-hungry prince (Rufus Sewell), eager to take the reins of the Austro-Hungarian empire.

To reveal much more would spoil the turns the story takes. However, it is worth noting that the Oscar nomination it received for Dick Pope's cinematography was more than deserved as are most of the other technical aspects of the film, including the writing and directing of Neil Burger. Hell, even Philip Glass' score doesn't intrude on the film the way it did in Notes on a Scandal.

Norton turns in a solid performance as always, but for me the real standout is Paul Giamatti as the chief inspector, ambitious and willing to serve as a lackey for the prince but who still remains conscientious. When Eisenheim asks him at one point if he's completely corrupt and Giamatti replies, "No, not completely" I couldn't help but be reminded of Claude Rains' Renault in Casablanca.

Giamatti also gets a moment near the film's denouement that is as much a joy to watch as a viewer as it is for the character himself. Of the two films, I still slightly prefer The Prestige, but The Illusionist certainly is worth a look as well.

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The denouement moment actually brought me back around to this movie when it had lost me earlier in. In fact, I think I like this movie primarily because of that moment--it is impossible not to be drawn in by him.
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