Monday, April 09, 2007


RUNTIME: 109 min.

I committed a big blunder, something that I should have known and something I feel compelled to warn you against. The Yari brothers’ Edward Norton starrer, a film about magicians, was the first of the two films, the other being THE PRESTIGE, to have been released last year. Most people would have been to the former and then to the latter, for me it was the other way round. And the whole joy of it has been destroyed, because once you have been through Nolan brothers’ labyrinth, THE ILLUSIONIST would be a child’s play where you will second-guess every other move. Once you see the skeleton of the plot emerge, you wouldn’t take a minute to round up the entire plot, down to last details, I mean the very last detail. Not that you’re a genius or anything, it simply is because THE PRESTIGE is so breathtakingly brilliant and THE ILLUSIONIST is so simple, so na├»ve that its suspense and its twist-ending seems to be put together by a bunch of school kids.
THE ILLUSIONIST, based on the short story “Eisenheim the Illusionist” by Steven Millhauser, is about a young furniture maker Eduard Abramovicz (Edward Norton) who courtesy of a chance meeting with a magician develops a keen interest in the art. He happens to befriend a young Duchess Von Teschen/Sophie (Jessica Biel), in the city of Vienna. Their childhood relationship never matures and Eduard goes away into the then mysterious Orient to become a master of illusion, changing his name to Eisenheim. He returns after a long time only to find Vienna in the hands of Crown Prince Leopold (Rufus Sewell), the archetypical bad man who is scheming to overthrow his father and marrying Sophie, uniting her father with him in the process.
The most remarkable thing about THE ILLUSIONIST is its production values. It looks breathtaking; something straight out of a LORD OF THE RINGS movie, despite the production cost being a mere $16 million. Technically the movie is brilliant, the feel, and the atmosphere of illusion just perfect. The same cannot be said of the performances though. Edward Norton is good, but his performance feels tired one, the twinkle his eyes had in PRIMAL FEAR, AMERICAN HISTORY X and FIGHT CLUB is missing. Sometimes I got the feeling he was just going through the motions, maybe watching the brilliant Bale yesterday might have to do something with it, but from Norton I expect more. Jessica Biel is just about all right. I heard that she desperately wanted to be in this production, to prove here mettle as an actress. She didn’t convince me too much. And the chemistry between her and Norton is sorely missing, a requirement since this movie is a love story at the core. The major disappointment for me though is Giamatti; I love this actor. He’s one of the natural character actors around, he was the only good thing about last year’s THE LADY IN THE WATER and that is something. But here he is way over the top, hamming. Sometimes he whispers, barely audible and others he is speaking in a constantly changing accent, apparently conscious of his moustache and beard. The charm that this actor possesses is nowhere and that is a shame.
Neil Burger, known for the quite wonderful INTERVIEW WITH THE ASSASSIN is the strength of the movie. He keeps the fun element of the movie going without ever getting heavily melodramatic, something that is quite fun since it is taken for granted that period movies are supposed to have substance in them.
I don’t know if my review should of THE ILLUSIONIST should be taken seriously, I don’t know if I would have liked it more or the same had I seen it before THE PRESTIGE. But one thing is certain, THE PRESTIGE is a far superior production in every which way possible and there is no denying the fact. THE PRESTIGE scores over THE ILLUSIONIST in every element of movie making.
Nevertheless, THE ILLUSIONIST is a solid piece of entertainment, and I would recommend it, and I would implore, do watch it before you watch THE PRESTIGE. Not because THE ILLUSIONIST is bad, but because THE PRESTIGE is so fantastically good.


Shelby said...

You're only just now discovering how great this movie is?! I loved it, too. Saw it in theatres. Fabulous film. Have you seen The Illusionist with Jessica Biel and Edward Norton? Like the idea of your blog!


chambilkethakur said...

i have seen illusionist before prestige so liked it most. and my entire point of view is just opposite.
and for first time, i felt ed norton is too good(although seen fight club earlier, but here entire persona is different).
I have posted my comparison at my blog, although after reading ur review, i feel my review is totally biased against illusionist.
still my take is here: