Release Date: August 18th, 2006 by Yari Film Group.
The Cast: Edward Norton, Paul Giamatti, Jessica Biel, Rufus Sewell, James Babson, Brian Caspe, Tom Fisher, Aaron Johnson.
Directed by Neil Burger.
BASIC PREMISE: During the turn of 20th Century in Vienna, Chief Inspector Uhl (Giamatti) investigates the murder of Sophie (Biel), a Duchess in a love triangle between Crown Prince Leopold (Sewell) and Eisenheim (Norton), a professional magician.
ENTERTAINMENT VALUE: The Illusionist works on so many different levels of entertainment. On the one hand, it’s a serious drama with a prince, Leopold, who gets jealous when Eisenheim the magician falls in love with his beautiful fiancée, Sophie. Eisenheim and Sophie haven’t met each other since they fell in love when they were very young only to be separated for their forbidden love. The plot gets very intriguing and suspenseful when Sophie, now an adult, shows up with the prince at one of Eisenheim’s magic shows and, in a later scene, ends up murdered. Did the prince murder her or was it Eisenheim? Writer/director Neil Burger wisely doesn’t make the answer to that crucial question so predictable by gradually adding twists and turns to make the plot more and more complex. He never actually shows the murder take place, which adds to the suspense. Moreover, Burger writes the script from the Chief Inspector’s perspective, so the audience knows just as much as the inspector knows and gets surprised when he does. The twists of the intricate plot won’t be spoiled here, as tempting as it sounds. Every actor fits into their roles very well. Edward Norton, well cast as Eisenheim, gives an Oscar-worthy performance. He makes Eisenheim likeable yet complex and odd character. Paul Giamatti shows that he can be taken seriously in a dramatic role that doesn’t require him to be humorous like in American Splendor or Private Parts. Rufus Sewell, best known for his role in the underrated Dark City, is also very convincing here. The big surprise here, though, is Jessica Biel who simply radiates in every scene with her genuine beauty and charm. It’s also worth mentioning the exquisite costume design and set design which adds to the authenticity of the era. Director Neil Burger uses cinematography that gives the film a dreamlike effect with many washed-out and dark colors. There’s also a mesmerizing musical score by Philip Glass. What truly makes this movie special is the jaw-dropping third act which could have easily been a mess, but instead wisely and intriguingly pieces the puzzle together in a very unpredictable way that will require repeated viewings.
SPIRITUAL VALUE: The entire movie is thought-provoking as the Chief Inspector—as well as the audience—tries to separate reality from the deceptive world of magic and to solve the murder case, which isn’t as simple as it looks. It’s quite touching how Eisenheim and Sophie unconditionally love of one another even after being separated for many years.
INSULT TO YOUR INTELLIGENCE: None.
NUMBER OF TIMES I CHECKED MY WATCH: 0
IN A NUTSHELL: Riveting, intriguing and unforgettable. One of the best films of the year. Edward Norton gives an Oscar-worthy performance.
RECOMMENDED WAY TO WATCH: Movie Theater (1st Run)
The "I" Menu