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Today's word on journalism

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

"Paranoia means having all the facts."

--William S. Burroughs, Beat Generation writer (1914-1997)

The illuminating 'Illusionist' plays with mind and mood

By Ryan Pence

September 13, 2006 | Magic, mysticism, murder and mystery encompass The Illusionist in a story craft-fully woven to entice, enlighten and expand the imagination of a skeptical audience. The Illusionist invites us into his show, so he can manipulate our minds to think one thing while he conjures something else to stay one step ahead.

Story. The story, as with most, is a love story -- this one being a forbidden love between two characters, the woodworker Eisenheim and aristocrat's daughter Sophie. Because of his social positions, her parents will not allow them to be together. Fast forward to turn-of-the-century Vienna, where we find these two grown up. Eisenheim, has returned from traveling the world, having learned magic. Sophie has become engaged to Prince Leopold, who is trying to take over his father's kingdom. During a performance, Eisenheim reunites with Sophie, after which he uses his magic and illusions to ensure that they will stay together forever. In the process he saves the kingdom.

Characters. Edward Norton portrays the apparently subtle-outwardly-underspoken Eisenheim. Yet, for most of the film he appears perturbed, and at times he is boring to watch. He has that certain, I-know-what-is-going-on-and-you-don't attitude. To his credit, it's certainly different than his dual-personality-alter-ego movie Fight Club, or his brilliant FBI persona in Red Dragon.

Jessica Biel plays the beautiful love interest caught between a "real" love and a forced one. She plays Sophie as best as she can with the lines given to her, but it was almost evident that she was only there for the love scene, because she dies shortly thereafter, and that was right around the halfway point of the film.

But the real acting credit goes to Paul Giamatti, who plays Chief Inspector Uhl. Giamatti steals every scene he is in. He plays his character with such determination that the audience sees a transformation as learns the truth strives to better himself. We can see in the movie his personal conflict, and the choices that he has to make, and the sacrifice that he does.

Direction. A relatively unknown director, Neil Burger, mans the helm of this production. This is his second film, but his first mainstream film. What he creates is nothing more than beauty -- the shots that he picks, the camera angles he chooses. The film is art, and was clearly composed that way. He uses colors, sepia tones in particular to re-create a more dated visual look and dark lighting to cast shadows, depicting mystery and uncertainty. The location of Vienna shows love and grandeur, on a personal scale, something personal for the movie characters.

Music. Composer Phillip Glass created the atmosphere for the movie. Glass is widely known for his movie scores that surprisingly include no percussion, winds or brass instruments, but rather tend to be string quartets. Tells the story using the melodic tones and movements of music that hypnotically accentuate Vienna and help punctuate the feelings and emotions of the film.

Bottom Line. Although there are obvious holes in the plot line, and various elements didn't work, as clearly as hoped, The Illusionist was very well done. It was a fun and engaging movie to watch; it'll keep you thinking to the very end. Also, because of its very nature of being a love story, it makes for a decent movie date.

Rating. PG-13, for violence, sexuality, and brief language.

Ryan's Movie Picks. The movie picks of the week go to Paul Giamatti. Check these out.

Sideways. A movie about two friends spending a week in California's wine country, as sort of a road trip before one of them gets married. They try wines, find women and discover themselves in this character-driven comedy.

American Splendor. Giamatti plays real-life comic book writer Harvey Pekar in this entertaining, sometimes real, sometimes fictional account of the comic book writer's life.


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