The Illusionist ****
Ever since I was a little boy I have always been fascinated by magic and all of it's secrets. Even today, whenever I am flipping through the channels on the television, and I stumble across some kind of magic show-like David Blaine walking down the streets and doing tricks for the people that are passing by-I will watch it. It's always amusing, and I must say, I prefer watching little tiny card tricks that take a few seconds, as opposed to seeing a man encased in a block of ice in Times Square. There is just something about magic that always captures attention. These magicians do these giant tricks, that look as if they are actually doing something supernatural, but I'll bet if you were able to hear the secret about how a trick is actually done, you would think that you were stupid because the answer was obviously in front of you the entire time. And it's that gap between the illusion, and the fact that the secret is so obvious once you know it that makes people puzzle over how many of these tricks are done. And that is what attracted me to "The Illusionist" from the beginning, and it turned out to be one of the most fun, entertaining, romantic, and thrilling films of the year, sure to be one of the best.
And how can it be all bad? It features two of the best actors around at the moment: Edward Norton and Paul Giamatti. It even has the love interest of Jessica Biel, who I am assuming is trying to break away from her previous film roles, "Blade 3" and "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre," and trying to prove herself as a serious actress. "The Illusionist" is a small role, but she really does nail her part quite well. Norton and Giamatti are as perfect as always, and we even get to hear them use British accents, which they actually do use quite well.
Norton plays Eisenheim, an illusionist who has an odd history behind him. When he was a little boy, he became interested in the field of magic when he came upon a traveling magician in the street. However, the magician, and the tree on which he was leaning upon, both disappear, leaving his puzzled and confused. While practicing his magic, he meets Sophie, a little girl who is from a royal family. The two are destined not to be together as Sophie's family doesn't want her to mingle with such a low family, and the two are separated forever. Years later, Eisenheim has perfected his craft, and has come to do in a show in Vienna. He makes the audience fascinated with his tricks, and one trick involving him growing an entire orange tree takes the attention of Chief Inspector Uhl, who demands to know how the trick occured. Uhl starts a sort of friendship with Eisenheim, and informs him that the next night, the Crown Prince Leopold will be attending his show. During a trick that calls for a volenteer, Leopold ends up volenteering the woman that he plans on marrying, who Eisenheim recognizes right away. It's Sophie, all grown up, and the two begin an affair which leaves the Crown Prince angry. Leopold isn't very happy with the fact that Eisenheim makes him look like a fool, especially when Leopold is convinced that everything Eisenheim does can be explained easily. However, that doesn't really seem likely. Eisenheim ends up having a sort of following, which masses more and more when he starts to summon the dead from their graves. And the main question now is, does Eisenheim really have supernatural powers, or is everything that he is doing really simply an illusion?
"The Illusionist" is really alot of fun. Compared to many of the period pieces of the past, it doesn't take forever to start, it's not almost three hours long, and it doesn't make a big deal out of itself. It really is alot of fun, and could please almost anybody who is in the mood for a good thriller. It's suspenseful, interesting, and extremely entertaining. I understand that the audience cannot appriciate the magic that the characters are seeing, as we know that computers were used to make the orange tree appear out of nowhere, but that still doesn't make us less entranced by what Eisenheim does. I did end up guessing the films final twist about twenty minutes before it was revealed, but it was only a speculation. It's still a good time watching how all the pieces of the puzzle end up fitting into place.
Other things I liked. It was great to see Paul Giamatti do something a little different, and even though the role sounds like an odd one for him to play, I really can't imagine anybody else doing it. He's the heart and soul of "The Illusionist" acting wise. I also loved the look of the film. The entire photography has this kind of flickering feel to it, as if everything is being lit by candlelight. I would like to see more period dramas like "The Illusionist." Something more fun, and out of the ordinary, as opposed to those by the book ones that come out all the time-"Vanity Fair" anyone? It's also one of your best bets if none of the other summer thrillers out there are of any interest to you. There is another film about magic coming out in the fall which I am looking forward to very much, and it's great to finally see a magic film that is for adults, instead of the fantasy driven childrens films, that are entertaining, but don't contain the dark and morbid and scary ideas that real magic entails.