The Illusionist

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Review #134 of 365
Film: The Illusionist [NA] 110 minutes
WIP™ Scale: $14.00
Where Viewed: Paramount Theatre, Seattle, WA
When 1st Seen: 25 May 2006
Time: 7:00 p.m.
Review Dedicated to: H. Scott S. of Chicago, IL

Be transported to a land of enchantment. No not New Mexico, but rather to turn-of-the-century Vienna where the ruthless Crown Prince Leopolds's planned ascension to the throne is thwarted by a mysterious, professional magician whose heart still pines for his childhood sweetheart recently betrothed to the same Crown Prince. Thus is the net summary for Neil Burger's new film, The Illusionist, scheduled for release in mid-August and the featured opening film for the 2006 Seattle International Film Festival. Starring fellow Academy Award®-nominees, the very busy Edward Norton (Eisenheim) and Paul Giamatti (Chief Inspector Uhl), and Jessica Biel (Duchess Sophie) this captivating film is both a timeless love story and an ingenious thriller with a near Sixth Sense-like appeal not just because Eisenheim The Illusionist seems to be able to conjure up and see dead people, but because of the twists and turns the plot takes with surprising revelations you might suspect but never be quite sure how they were managed. If you are like I am, you will want to turn right around and see it again in what would probably turn out to be vain attempt to learn how you too fell victim to the tricks and slight of hand. Of course, if I love nothing else in a film, I adore it when it achieves, in playing with the minds of the audience members, that which its characters endure in the film. This recursivity of this film's plot with the filmgoer experience makes for a tantalizing entanglement.

"Director Neil Burger has done a marvelous pacing, 'enchanting' illusions, and a beautiful Viennese setting...this film has all the right elements for the makings of a highly successful film classic. "
Edward Norton captures the adult Eisenheim with dark beard and longish hair to perfection reaffirming his place as one of the most extraordinary actors of his generation even after the less-than-spectacular Down in the Valley. With elegant hands that perform gentle motions conceived to distract the eyes away from important actions, his preparation for this film must have been quite demanding. Jessica Biel comes into her own as a bona fide potential leading lady as Sophie the Duchess and intended wife of Crown Prince Leopold. Deep down, however, her heart was long-before set on the son of her family's cabinet maker, the younger version of Eisenheim. To most, the name Rufus Sewell won't ring a bell, others may recognize him from his recent role this winter as Lord Marke in Tristan + Isolde. Here he plays the wicked, self-assured Crown Prince Leopold who lords with an iron fist over his subjects. Including his Chief Police Inspector, Uhl (Giamatti). Sewell's Crown Prince Leopold is a wonderful blend of ruthless tyrant and holier than thou, I know what's best for you monarch. He is liked only because he is feared, and he is reputed to have shoved people off balconies to hide the physical abuse he inflicts when they failed to show the requisite fear. Paul Giamatti brings tremendous experience to the cast as the problem-solving Chief Inspector and Mayor of Vienna hopeful. Despite his outward appearance of loyalty to the crown, deep down his allegiance is to the truth. As much as he works to enact the perilous edicts of Leopold, he also keeps his mind clear as he attempts to unravel the murder of the Duchess and the secrets of the Illusionist.

Director Neil Burger has done a marvelous job bringing this charming short story, "Eisenheim the Illusionist" by Pulitzer Prize-winning author Steven Millhauser to the screen. With smart pacing, 'enchanting' illusions, and a beautiful Viennese setting with storybook castles and pastoral countrysides, this film has all the right elements for the makings of a highly successful film classic. Look for it this August in theatres near you. In the meantime, the secrets of the plot are safe with me.

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