Saturday, August 26, 2006
Movie Review - The Illusionist
The Illusionist is the perfect late summer movie. It's mellow and warm and golden-colored, like rich summer days turning overripe to autumn. It stars Edward Norton and Paul Giamatti, which is reason enough for anyone to see it. It's set in fin-de-siecle Vienna, which is reason enough for me to see it. And it's the kind of engrossing, classic fairy-tale like love story that all fans of romance would enjoy, which is reason enough for you to see it.
Edward Abramowitz was the son of a cabinet maker who began studying magic after a chance encounter with a traveling magician. As a teenager, he befriended Sophie von Tesschen, the daughter of a local nobleman. At their secret meetings, he would show her his magic and they would plot to run away together to the Orient. Then her family separates them.
Fifteen years later, Edward appears in Vienna as Eisenheim the Illusionist and takes the city by storm. Even Crown Prince Leopold attends one of his performances, at which he offers up his lovely almost-fiancee as Eisenheim's assistant. The woman in question is of course none other than Sophie.
After the lovers reunite, they begin a game in which they seek to be together, the Prince seeks to keep Sophie for his own and debunk Eisenheim's magic act, and the Prince's right hand man, Chief Inspector Uhl, seeks to untangle and increasingly complicated web of illusion, reality, love, politics and violence.
The cinematography is breathtaking. The director uses techniques from the early days of cinema, like irises and slow dissolves, to create a movie that's feels more like an artifact from 1900 than a mere period piece. The acting is uniformly good, with Norton's quiet intensity and Giamatti's slightly fussy, detached Inspector the two stand-outs. And the love story captivates like a fairy-tale -- it's heavy on mood, light on plot, and the characters are as familiar as archetypes from a legend.
The Illusionist is in limited release, but should be expanding to more theaters soon. If you get the chance to see it on the big screen, you'll be well rewarded.