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
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
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
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.