Much of a film’s interest starts the moment audiences see trailers for it , and such was the case with THE ILLUSIONIST. The dark themes, nice sets, pretty actors/actresses, and supernatural undertones probably drew movie-goers to the theaters after checking out the trailers. But some may be disappointed to find little else behind The Illusionist. Although this disappointment won’t fall to the level of despair or hatred of the film, movie buffs may feel as if they were lied to when it doesn’t deliver the high-caliber flick they were expecting.
The story …
Eisenheim The Illusionist is played by Edward Norton (AMERICAN HISTORY X), and Norton does an okay job with a scripted character that seems to have few emotions. Eisenheim’s life has focused on his magical craft since he left his hometown and the love of his life, Sophie (Jessica Biel, ELIZABETHTOWN), a fellow teenager who’s way above Eisenheim’s station. Fifteen years later we find Eisenheim in Vienna only to discover that Sophie, now a beautiful young baroness, slated to marry into the upper echelon of royalty. Her husband-to-be is the dangerous and manipulating Crown Prince Leopold (Rufus Sewell, DARK CITY). But when Eisenheim and Sophie try to rekindle their love interest, deadly forces are at play and are ready to rip them apart again. One of these forces is Chief Inspector Uhl (Paul Giamatti, CINDERELLA MAN), the upstart of a poor butcher who’s trying to rise to a power all his own (Viennese Mayor Uhl? Nice ring to it, eh?).
Eisenheim and Sophie concoct a plan in which she can detach herself from the Crown Prince, but the plan seems doomed from the start. Sophie’s life is put in danger and Eisenheim has to use his incredible illusionist powers to help save their lives and their love. But can it work?
As with the title and the main character, much of what is seen is complete illusion. But if one watches carefully, they can pick up on hints of what is truly going on. “Make us disappear,” Sophie pleads with Eisenheim at the beginning of the film as they cower in a hut. And that he cannot do so obviously affects the rest of his life and the rest of the film.
The shinning stars in The Illusionist are Giamatti, Sewell, and, surprisingly, Biel. Although the entire focus of the film is around Norton’s character, it’s tough to get “into” him when what he mostly does is sit on a stage and make soulful apparitions appear by looking as if he were having a particularly tough bowel movement.
Paul Giamatti really steals the show here. How great it is to see someone of Giamatti’s chops finally get the recognition he deserves and star in some great roles. Now he’s proving that he’s not just a co-star (THE TRUMAN SHOW, SAVING PRIVATE RYAN). His Inspector Uhl character is miles away from …well …Miles in his career launching SIDEWAYS film. That the audience both roots for Uhl and hopes he fails is evidence of Giamatti’s great acting ability.
Rufus Sewell is the bad guy everyone loves to hate. He’s done it time and again (A KNIGHT’S TALE, HELEN OF TROY, etc.) and pulls in a wonderfully slimy character portrayal here, too.
But Jessica Biel is the biggest surprise. Looking both pretty and elegant, Biel goes further than she’s ever gone before – far beyond 7th HEAVEN and THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE – and may have cemented herself as an actress with Oscar-caliber potential.
The biggest letdown for film-o-philes will be that The Illusionist doesn’t expand much beyond what they saw in the film’s trailers a few months ago. But it does entertain, and it’s visually interesting and well shot. Just don’t expect too much from the script and you’ll probably be just fine.