The Illusionist – Movie Review

Edward Norton stars as the movie’s namesake—Eisenheim the Illusionist—a stage magician in turn-of-the-20th-century Vienna. His amazing illusions gain him a huge audience, including the prince and his entourage. When Eisenheim asks for a volunteer, the prince puts forward his fiancée (played by Jessica Biel), who happens to be Eisenheim’s old friend. As the childhood sweethearts’ reacquaintance blossoms into secret romance, the prince gradually becomes obsessed with deflating Eisenheim’s popularity by proving him a fraud. As the police inspector (played by Paul Giamatti) tries to unravel Eisenheim’s mysteries, tensions rise and the love triangle turns to tragedy.

Even though it sounds like a romance, that is only part of the story. The theme of illusion and reality plays a big part in the story as well. Both the inspector and the prince repeatedly challenge Eisenheim’s magic—and even as a viewer, I think the movie leads me back and forth on whether or not his magic is supernatural or sleight-of-hand. As much as I enjoyed being caught up in a few of the surprising plot twists, unfortunately, they also led to my disappointment. When the truth is revealed in the end, the scene reminded me of the moment in The Sixth Sense when you learn the truth about Bruce Willis’s character, or the end of The Usual Suspects when you realize the truth about Keyser Soze. In both instances, the revelation makes sense. All the dots connect and you see the bigger picture. This movie tries to achieve the same effect, but there were still too many unanswered questions that were unsuccessfully glossed over with quick cuts. The revelation felt unsatisfying. (As you can tell, I’m trying not to reveal anything myself because even though it’s not as good as a lot of twist-ending movies, I still think it’s worth watching.)

The look of the film is nice, with period sets and costumes and some pretty special effects. The acting was good, but I was a bit distracted by the accents. Clearly, the actors hadn’t all agreed upon what a Viennese accent should sound like. Surprisingly, I didn’t hate Jessica Biel’s performance as much as I expected to, but I didn’t enjoy Edward Norton’s as much as I expected to either. His Eisenheim was too sedate and low-key for the most part. There were several scenes in the movie when one of the characters was yelling at another where I thought the actors went overboard, but they all did well enough to keep the story believable and engaging. In the end, that’s all that counts. A good magic trick usually causes a person to think: “I can’t believe he did that!” or “I wonder how he did that.” The former might indicate a believer, and the latter may indicate a skeptic. Though I may have believed in Eisenheim’s magic, the disappointing ending left me skeptical of this movie’s illusion overall. (3.5 out of 5)

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