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Overall Rating
3.53

Awesome: 20%
Worth A Look: 26.67%
Average46.67%
Pretty Bad: 0%
Total Crap: 6.67%

3 reviews, 42 user ratings


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Illusionist, The (2006)
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by Peter Sobczynski

"Deeply flawed, Wildly Miscast but Not Entirely Without Merit"
3 stars

In an effort to prevent audiences from observing the fairly obvious mechanics behind their illusions, most magicians will employ such diversionary tactics as flashy special effects, a steady stream of patter or, if all else fails, a pretty girl or two. Appropriately enough, considering that it is a film about a magician, the makers of “The Illusionist” use those very same tricks for the very same reason and even bring in two of America’s finest actors, Edward Norton and Paul Giamatti, to further distract audiences from noticing the shabby reality behind the seemingly impressive illusion they are trying to create. Alas, if they had put more effort into creating a truly crafty and compelling story instead of inventing ways to make viewers forget that they haven’t, they might have come up with something exciting and memorable instead of the curious little misfire that we have been left with.

Set in turn-of-the-20th-century Vienna, Norton stars as Eisenheim, a traveling magician who arrives in town and dazzles/terrifies the populace with an astounding series of illusions. One person who is especially interested is police inspector Uhl (Paul Giamatti), a guy who fancies himself an amateur magician and who assumes that his position in the town entitles him to be given the secrets to Eisenheim’s tricks. Another is Crown Prince Leopold (Rufus Sewell), the arrogant town leader who insists that he is smart enough to figure out the tricks on his own and not only asks Eisenheim to do a command performance, he even supplies his own fiancee when a volunteer from the audience is required. This proves to be a mistake since his betrothed, the beautiful Sophie (Jessica Biel), was Eisenheim’s childhood love until they were torn apart by their class differences. Now reunited, the two discover that they are still very much in love and pick up where they left off–much to Leopold’s chagrin when he discovers what is going on.

Without going into too much detail, it eventually turns into a tale of love, jealousy, murder and the possibility that Eisenheim’s gifts extend to the supernatural. These may sound like the ingredients for a nifty little potboiler and yet, the material in writer-director Neil Burger’s film is so lackluster and predictable that when the studio sent me a note last week admonishing me not to reveal the details of the final plot twist, I had to rack my brain to figure out what they could have been talking about. Even if the final revelations hadn’t been so crashingly obvious, it still would have struggled with the unavoidable problems that a.) magic in the context of a film means nothing because everyone in the audience assumes that there is some post-production trickery going on and b.) most of the illusions that we see hear are so elaborate in conception and execution that they couldn’t possibly have been staged in the manner depicted here with the same results. Although I understand that master illusionist Ricky Jay had a behind-the-scenes role in the production, I simply never believed in any of the illusions for a second and since they come to dominate the second half of the film, it becomes a problem that Burger (whose previous film was the underrated “Interview With the Assassin,” a trippy faux-documentary about the alleged second shooter at JFK’s assassination that knew a thing or two about maintaining illusions) is unable to work around in a manner that will satisfy anyone watching all the way until the bitter end.

Not even the top-notch cast can quite manage to salvage things. Edward Norton is an extraordinary actor but the thing that makes him such a standout in most of his roles–his white-hot intensity–is the very thing that does him in here–he always seems just about ready to explode throughout, even during his idyllic moments with the love of his life. Giamatti is cast a little more closely to type–he is as good as anyone at playing people who never get the respect and admiration that they so clearly think they deserve–but he is saddled with an accent that sounds like nothing so much as Paul Giamatti struggling with an unlikely accent. Rufus Sewell is appropriately dark and creepy and menacing but it is the exact same performance that he has delivered before in any number of films. As for Biel, she comes off the worst because while she is undeniably gorgeous, she looks far too contemporary for her role and her accent makes Giamatti’s seem like a marvel of linguistic fidelity by comparison.

“The Illusionist” does have a few things going in its favor–the Czech locations are impressive, the Philip Glass score is fairly mesmerizing and there are individual moments (such as Giamatti trying to figure out an illusion involving an orange tree that seems to sprout before his eyes) that do work. That said, this bits never add up to anything resembling a satisfying whole and while you keep expecting a film with a cast of this caliber to eventually pull a rabbit or two out of thin air, it eventually becomes clear that “The Illusionist” has brought the wrong hat.

link directly to this review at http://www.efilmcritic.com/review.php?movie=13576&reviewer=389
originally posted: 08/18/06 17:57:20
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2006 Sundance Film Festival For more in the 2006 Sundance Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2006 Seattle Film Festival For more in the 2006 Seattle Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

2/01/10 Peter Slightly.....strange. It was full of plot holes and it didn't connect properly. 3 stars
7/02/09 cindy great film. Totally enjoyed! 5 stars
12/05/08 Shaun Wallner Interesting Movie! 3 stars
7/25/08 jeanne Norton looked drugged, Biel lobotomized, my lovely Rufus acted like an overtired toddler. 1 stars
5/27/08 damalc just did not engage me, but looking at Biel was worth the price 3 stars
5/19/08 PAUL SHORTT YOU MAY BE TEMPORARILY BEGUILED, BUT NOT FOOLED 1 stars
3/08/08 zenny not bad, not bad at all 4 stars
11/13/07 Double M Tired, dull rom w. very silly conclusion. expected more from Ed Norton, he deserves better. 3 stars
8/07/07 Johnny A perfect little gem, but not violent/mean-spirited enough for the frat-boy crowd. 5 stars
6/25/07 Helen Bradley Great acting editing music script 5 stars
6/10/07 Alice very average 3 stars
5/19/07 fools♫gold Almost loved it (like I did LOVE the new film "Next"). Almost a 9/10. 4 stars
5/12/07 pin He made my money disappear. Total Crap. See The Prestige. 1 stars
4/29/07 Miss Me Excellent movie 5 stars
4/13/07 Beau very wierd at times, but a powerful movie based on love, betrayal and obsession! gr8 acting 3 stars
3/23/07 Todd It was ok, plot twist is obvious, magic tricks impossible even with today's technology 3 stars
3/15/07 Luke One of the Best Movies I've ever seen. Its similar to butterfly effect to me. 5 stars
3/11/07 Ryan_A Everything seems just slightly...off. Good cast, decent story, should be better. 3 stars
3/05/07 CAB Putrid from beginning to end. Total waste of time. 1 stars
3/01/07 Steve Hornby I personally enjoyed the movie. I found that the ending was not at all what I was expectin 4 stars
2/23/07 Phil M. Aficionado Forgettable little trick piece; not very involving considering the subject and cast 3 stars
2/07/07 vagile 4 1/2 stars. Brilliant performances, engaging film. 5 stars
1/16/07 rocky Way better than I expected...totally intriguing and entertaining 4 stars
11/12/06 j. notarthomas OK/few storyline holes/4 fine actors/not looking for card tricks/got lots more/ loved it! 4 stars
10/24/06 jcjs worth seeing, like Illusionist far more for my simple brain..Ed Norton and Giamati focused 4 stars
10/02/06 Roger Great movie, will but it when it comes out on DVD 5 stars
9/30/06 Suzz a ho-hummer; guessed the twist early on; average performances 3 stars
9/16/06 Kelly Anne intriguing, rich and very well acted 4 stars
9/14/06 Luisa Giamatti and Norton are good enough reasons to watch, great film! 4 stars
9/11/06 jcjs gees, Norton, Arkin etc. .. masterpiece 5 stars
9/10/06 Heather Edward Norton is Hottttt 5 stars
9/08/06 Mohobbit very good,Giamatti and Rufus Sewell excellent.Don't miss this film 4 stars
9/04/06 bobby b well worth a look 4 stars
9/04/06 steve gordon great story 4 stars
9/03/06 Matt It is a masterpiece. 5 stars
9/03/06 Mase highly watchable in yet it's already fading from memory. Plus i guessed the twist correctly 4 stars
8/28/06 Ole Man Bourbon Simple story, but very well-done. 4 stars
8/21/06 Angelique awesome!!!!!! 5 stars
8/17/06 John C. I enjoyed this movie. Great cast 4 stars
8/03/06 Margaret I thought it was a very good entertaining movie with great acting 5 stars
6/26/06 B. Egan Liked the film and very much disagree with your review. 4 stars
5/27/06 Blackbrain Properly slow paced and beautiful. Fascinating "silent movie" effects during flashbacks. 4 stars
IF YOU'VE SEEN THIS FILM, RATE IT!
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USA
  18-Aug-2006 (PG-13)
  DVD: 09-Jan-2007

UK
  N/A

Australia
  01-Mar-2007


Directed by
  Neil Burger

Written by
  Neil Burger

Cast
  Edward Norton
  Jessica Biel
  Paul Giamatti
  Rufus Sewell
  Eddie Marsan
  Tom Fisher



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