Last night was the night of ‘The Illusionist’. Ever since its release, approx. at the same time as another similar themed movie ‘The Prestige’, the positive word of mouth with regard to this movie has been extremely strong. I did watch ‘The Prestige’ a year back on television and was intrigued at the same time let down a bit by a slightly convenient ending for one of the protagonists. Christopher Nolan’s direction was not at fault, but the screenplay wound itself too early and I also couldn’t dispel the feeling that Christian Bale and Michael Caine were continuing from their encounters in Batman Begins.
The Illusionist provides the intrigue and suspense that is more sinister and gripping thanks to a tightly wound film led by a stellar cast – all this in a period setting (maybe 1860s?). Edward Norton and Paul Giamatti are first-rate in the period film that explores one man’s journey to get back to his rediscovered lover against all odds. Throw in a murder mystery (which seems straightforward at first) and stage sequences where you can truly feel a sinister sort of magic emanating from every frame of Edward Norton, and you have a cracking period classic.
Paul Giamatti makes hay while the sun shines in a role tailor made for him. As the unscrupulous yet conscientious police inspector of Vienna, he is in awe of Edward Norton’s magician, yet is bound by his servitude to the Crown Prince of Vienna. Watch out for the first meeting between the two where Giamatti tries to act a bit too smart to his discomfort.
The on stage magic sequences are a mix of horror and thrills. Brilliantly choreographed and led by Edward Norton, the intensity in these sequences is gripping. I for one couldn’t help feeling a sense of foreboding and curiosity on what would come up next. The strength of the film lies in the arrangement of the shows at critical points in the film. You can’t help but wait in anticipation for what more Edward Norton’s Eisenheim character has to offer you from what can only be explained as black magic.
My only complaint, once again like ‘The Prestige’, lies in the ending. It appears that the scriptwriters for both the features may have been hypnotized by David Blaine who tied up with ‘Ripley’s Believe it or Not’ to provide a perfect answer to their gimmicks. Despite the ending (which is a twist that you may be ready for as you approach the finale), ‘The Illusionist’ is no gimmick. Director Neil Burger has woven a well crafted tale based on a short story by Steven Millhauser. Oh and before I forget, Jessica Biel fans – she’s in there too.