Finally caught up with the other magic-themed movie of 2006, The Illusionist. Unlike The Prestige, this one focuses not on two rival magicians, but rather one illusionist. Eisenheim (Edward Norton) and his act is the latest sensation sweeping Vienna, and draws the attention of the Crown Prince (Rufus Sewell) and Police Inspector Uhl (Paul Giamatti). Apparently Eisenheim had a childhood romance with Lady Sophie (Jessica Biel), but as the son of a carpenter, their close friendship was deemed inappropriate. Reunited by chance at a performance, they rekindle their relationship – but will it spark the wrath of the Prince?
The story was interesting and plays out well, with a nice twist ending reminiscent in presentation to the finale from The Usual Suspects as we revisit moments from the film and interpret them in a new light. The magic is fun to watch, although some of the more impressive feats are never quite explained – is it a parlor trick, or is it real magic? The look of the film was very good, with a sepia-tone edged image with a slight vignette to give it an “old time” quality. The music, by Philip Glass, is effective and provides momentum. Norton was understated in his acting, which was solid but not his best performance. Sewell seems to be typecast as the bad guy, which he plays with gusto – sometimes a little too much at times, though. Giamatti is good, and even Biel did a stand-up job for this un-Biel like role.
Overall, The Illusionist was an enjoyable film. It’s not a great film and won’t really be an Oscar contender, but it’s worth checking out if you’re up for a little romantic drama with a magical twist.