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Friday, September 5, 2008

DVD Review: the Illusionist

It’s the early 1900s in Vienna, Austria, following the adventures of one Eisenheim, the illusionist, as he dazzles the everyday folk and the royals with his trickery on stage. That is, until he decides to challenge the Prince with his puzzles, and ends up be smitten by his lover. What follows are more tricks, deceptions and plenty of slight of hand, as the illusionist is backed into a corner and I'm left wondering what is real and what is not.

A gorgeous-looking movie featuring a fascinating lead character who likes to pull the wool over people’s eyes by amazing them with feats of magic, disappearance, guesswork and yes, you guessed it…illusions. I guess you could call this guy the David Copperfield or David Blaine of his day, only unlike Blane, he actually performs magic and doesn’t just cage himself in ice for a few days and call it magic.

The actor portraying the man of which I speak is Edward Norton, back in top form on the big screen, after seemingly disappearing from the face of the planet himself over the past few years. But he’s back with a vengeance here, and a monster goatee to boot. Paul Giamatti also plays his conflicted character to a tee, finally discarding his knack for playing lovable schlubs and showing the world why he’s been certified as one of our best character actors. In third spot comes Jessica Biel, who despite my own personal reservations, actually held her own against the two more established thespians, and did so without any gratuitous boob or ass shots (although she definitely allowed her lips to do the acting in a couple of sequences).

But the film wasn’t entertaining all the way through simply because of its characters alone, it also featured a highly authentic and moody look and feel, which along with some darkened corners on the film reel itself, provided the movie with just the right amount of mystery required. I love movies like this because they keep me guessing, and nowadays in Hollywood, the only thing left to answer is how many sequels a successful generic film will require in order for the studio to stop their uninspired movie-making trend (there’s no correct answer to this query as of yet).

Thankfully, writer/director Neil Burger has other plans as he has created here, a wonderful cinematic experience filled with lush visuals, eye-catching costumes, authentic locales, a believable and romantic love-story, as well as plenty of magic and suspense for anyone who appreciates that sort of thing. I didn't guess what the film’s final “illusion” was, but the movie still held me within its grasp, if only because I was consistently wondering from where the next twist would come.

Oh yeah, and I almost forgot about the always-entertaining Rufus Sewell, who sneered his way through yet another palpable nasty-man role. The film did surprise me with a couple of small turns in the end, and I most certainly appreciated its final “reveal”, if only because it helped clear it all up in my mind, and left me with a happy feeling in my heart.

I dug it all, and even though I liked its first hour a little more than its second half, the film on the whole was a wonderful achievement in many respects and should be viewed by anyone searching for an old school whodunit sprinkled with love, magic and the massive Norton goatee!

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