By: The Dweeb
The Illusionist, released last September starring Edward Norton as a master trickster magician Eisenheim in late 19th Century Vienna is a fairly entertaining flick. If you don’t mind watching a bunch of American and British actors talk in fake Austrian actors while trying to figure out what the deal is with this guy then this film is for you. The film lays it out as if this is historical drama, when in fact it is a complete fabrication melding elements and people from actual history. Unless you miss the opening credits you may think what the hell is going on here?
Essentially, this movie is another one of those elaborate ruse films, like The Sting. But the difference here is that things are not always explained, or at least only lightly alluded to which kind of left me hanging and wanting more details. The underlying forbidden love theme has the distinct feel of Romeo and Juliet, and its just as dark in tone if not darker. That part seemed like rehash that’s been done countless times before. The whole mysterioso illusionist part is where its at. Who is this Eisenheim guy, and how does he do his tricks? What does he want? I suppose we’ll never really know, except that he wants the Crown Prince’s (Rufus Sewell) fiancée Sophie (Jessica Biel). It is a a definite rich period piece and provides enough twists in the plot to keep you engaged I’ll give you that.
The ensemble cast is an interesting mix, where some of the choices worked well but in other areas I felt they did not. Edward Norton definitely shows he can carry a film, playing with a level head who was calm, cool and confident. He looks pretty good in whiskers, gives him a mature feel. Rufus Sewell as Prince Leopold also seemed to relish his part. He really dialed it in as the short tempered royal loser with his outbursts. I was waiting for him to tie Jessica Biel to the railroad tracks because she can’t pay the rent. Paul Giamatti as Inspector Uhl on the other hand I thought was an odd casting choice. You don’t picture him in foreign period pieces, because he is the quintessential American actor. I had a hard time dealing with that. One film your Joe Gould in Cinderella Man and the next your a Police Inspector in Vienna. You know that New York accent was waiting to bust out.
The film itself has some spectacular cinematography, hence the nomination this year for it. It has a dreamy quality, with striking dark and sepia tones, making you feel as if your watching inside a lithograph print. Very similar to what was done in O Brother Where Art Thou. The rest of the package is a bit disappointing. The extra content is sparse, and it will probably result in another collectors edition somewhere in the future. The two included featurettes a extremely short, and basically they cover the same thing so they repeat themselves. So, with this in mind, I would have to say this DVD is a rental only.