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Overall Rating

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

3 reviews, 42 user ratings

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Illusionist, The (2006)
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by EricDSnider

"Nothing up my sleeve. Or in my movie. Or anywhere."
3 stars

SCREENED AT THE 2006 SUNDANCE FILM FESTIVAL: Calling "The Illusionist" a romantic thriller is like calling a chihuahua a guard dog. It might technically be true, but you shouldn't expect much from it.

It has the trappings of romance, sure enough -- a turn-of-the-last-century Viennese setting, gorgeous period costumes, a lush Philip Glass musical score, and a plot involving star-crossed lovers from opposite sides of the tracks.

Eisenheim (Edward Norton), the son of a cabinetmaker, is now a popular stage magician, a purveyor of tricks so clever they border on the supernatural. (Indeed, like most films about magicians, this one has him doing things that no real-life magician would be able to duplicate.) Night after night his theater fills with people from all over Vienna, including a police inspector named Uhl (Paul Giamatti) who fancies himself an amateur illusionist and is keen to learn the secrets.

One night Eisenheim calls for a volunteer from the audience and realizes the woman who has responded is Sophie (Jessica Biel), the duchess he shared a brief, forbidden love affair with when they were teenagers. She is now engaged to marry Leopold (Rufus Sewell), the crown prince and a truly humorless man. She doesn't love him, though, and she and Eisenheim rekindle their old feelings.

Now, if being in love with a duchess who's engaged to a prince sounds like a bad idea, factor in the prince's famously sour disposition and see what you come up with. Inspector Uhl discovers the affair, reports to Leopold, and soon enough there is a murder. It befalls the living to vindicate the dead and uncover the villain, and that's where the "thriller" part of the film's description comes into play.

Written and directed by Neil Burger from a short story by Steven Millhauser, "The Illusionist" can boast Giamatti's performance as the garrulous, obsessive inspector as its strongest asset -- and Edward Norton's performance, sadly, as its weakest. Norton's accent is dubious, an evanescent combination of British and Austrian (Braustrian, I like to call it), and it masks a problem I've never seen Norton have before: He seems to have no idea who he's playing. There is no sense of weight or depth in Eisenheim, even when he's allegedly expressing emotion over his perilous situation with Sophie.

Of Jessica Biel, as usual, the less said the better. Ditto Rufus Sewell's scenery-chewing as Leopold.

It's a marginal story, and passionless in the way it's been antiseptically brought to the screen, but it's not unenjoyable. Lackluster performances aside, the film evokes its time and place exceptionally well. This may be enough to transport viewers to 1900 Vienna and give them some satisfaction, though they might be disappointed to discover the film has nothing up its sleeve after all.

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originally posted: 03/04/06 20:45:34
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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
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 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
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  18-Aug-2006 (PG-13)
  DVD: 09-Jan-2007



Directed by
  Neil Burger

Written by
  Neil Burger

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

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