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The Illusionist


The Illusionist

Rated:None
Director:Neil Burger
Cast:Edward Norton, Paul Giamatti, Jessica Biel, Rufus Sewell, Eddie Marsan
Release Date:2006
Genre:Drama

By Gary Dowell | Posted

Unabashedly old-fashioned and fantastically pulpy, writer-director Neil Burgerís sophomore movie, The Illusionist, shows that an intriguing and exotic period fantasy can be made on a shoestring budget. Set in 19th-century Vienna, it stars Edward Norton as Eisenheim, the titular sorcerer, who performs the sort of illusions--making orange trees spontaneously grow from a pot of dirt--that could never be performed on an actual stage in front of a live audience without actual supernatural abilities, but thatís part of the tale. The movie plays coy as to whether or not Eisenheim is the real deal, and itís that unsettling possibility that disturbs the treacherous Crown Prince Leopold (Rufus Sewell), who feels threatened by Eisenheimís popularity with the citizens. It also doesnít help that the princeís fiancťe, Dutchess Sophia von Teschen (Jessica Biel), is Eisenheimís former childhood sweetheart. Prince Leopold charges his conflicted enforcer Uhl (Paul Giamatti, wonderful in an uncharacteristic role) with reining Eisenheim in one way or another. A wonderfully opulent production design, great Prague locations, and fine performances from the cast--especially Norton and Giamatti--turn what could have been a pretentious mess into an engrossing melodrama. Some conventional plotting--such as the treacly romantic subplot and an outcome thatís telegraphed early in the story (capped with a closing sequence straight out of The Usual Suspects)--robs the movie of some of its momentum, but Burgerís confident direction and the leadsí sharp performances allow The Illusionist to cast an intriguing spell.

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