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The Illusionist

A drama movie directed by Neil Burger

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A Well-Crafted, Well-Acted Atmospheric La Belle Époque Viennese Mystery

  • Jan 10, 2007
  • by
Steven Millhauser's brilliant little short story 'Eisenheim the Illusionist' is beautifully realized cinematically by Neil Burger who not only adapted the story as a screenplay but also directed with a great flair for the subject. Wisely using the repeated line 'Nothing is what it seems' Burger infuses this dark investigation into the lives of the divided Viennese classes and suggests the crumbling of the Austro-Hungarian Empire with the focus on the illusory magic of one Eisenheim (finely characterized by Edward Norton) and its effects on the Crown Prince Leopold (Rufus Sewell) and the bifurcated Duchess Sophie (Jessica Biel).

As children Eisenheim and Sophie were friends despite the disparity of their class: Sophie was royalty (a Duchess) and Eisenheim was the son of a cabinetmaker to the court. They fall in love but are separated by caste and Eisenheim wanders Asia and Russia learning the vagaries of magic and illusionist tricks while Sophie is raised at court to become the wife of Crown Prince Leopold, whose plans to overthrow his father the Emperor to become the King of both Austria and Hungary have made him an obsessive scoundrel.

Years later Eisenheim enters Vienna as a showman, under the tutelage of his impresario Josef Fischer (Eddie Marsan), delighting audiences with his illusionist tricks. His impossible love for Sophie resurfaces and he becomes suspect in his role as an illusionist and as a threat tot he Crown. Eisenheim is investigated carefully by Chief Police Inspector Uhl (a brilliant role by Paul Giamatti) and the manner in which the fates of the Crown versus the love of Eisenheim and Sophie are resolved is, well, 'Nothing is what it seems'.

The cast is outstanding, the setting (in Prague) is incredibly atmospheric, and the costuming and lighting and cinematography marry into a perfect fit. Adding to the illusionist spirit of the film is the fine musical score by Phillip Glass so well loved for his score for 'The Hours' and one of our most important classical music composers of the day. THE ILLUSIONIST is a fine, misty, dark evocation of life in La Belle Époque of Vienna, based enough on fact that the fiction employs the concept that nothing is what it seems. Grady Harp, January 07

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More The Illusionist reviews
review by . December 30, 2009
As good as The Prestige and more....
Like Morpheus said in the Matrix," What is real? How do you define real?" Well I'm here to tell you that after you see this movie you'll be asking yourself that very same question, The Illusionist is dark, mysterious, taunt, intelligent,complex, breath taking and enchanting. It's a film for the ages.            When I first saw The Illusionist I was kind of skeptical. I kept thinking that Neil Burger had ripped off The Prestige and created his own …
Quick Tip by . August 20, 2010
posted in Movie Hype
this movie didnt get much box office attention but i picked it up in a bargin bin and i really like it....the story line is really compelling and dramatic.
Quick Tip by . August 13, 2010
posted in Movie Hype
Smart, enjoyable, and quite surprising at the end, The Illusionist will appeal to anyone with an affinity for mysteries, magic, or Edward Norton (What? He's awesome!)
Quick Tip by . June 04, 2010
Eh, it was all right. I felt like it was a rip-off of The Prestige.
review by . December 24, 2008
DVD cover
It's odd, but in the year 2006 there were two major motion pictures to feature stories about magicians and/or illusionists. The first film was The Illusionist, while the second film was The Prestige. In my humble opinion The Prestige is a superior film mainly because of the film's technical execution under the watchful eye of director Christopher Nolan.    But I digress.    The Illusionist is a surprisingly engaging suspense film with strong supernatural or "fantasy" …
review by . April 29, 2009
The movie opens with Richard Norton on a stage in late 1800's Austria performing some sort of magic trick when a group of soldiers bursts in to arrest him. The rest of the movie is a "flashback" leading up to that scene. We find Norton's character as a boy coming across a mysterious man by a tree. You don't know if Norton actually met him or imagined him as the guy disappears. Norton has an interest in magic and his character meets a well to do girl who he becomes friends with. The two …
review by . February 11, 2009
It is 1900 in Vienna, and the Chief Inspector (Paul Giamatti) is telling the story of a peasant boy who was once the secret playmate and love of little Countess Sophie; they planned to run away together, but their plan was discovered and they were separated. The boy traveled the world and learned the secrets of magic, returning home as "Eisenheim, the Illusionist" (Edward Norton). He is reunited with the Countess (Jessica Biel) again, quite by accident, during one of his shows and they resume their …
review by . March 25, 2007
"The Illusionist" is a beautiful film, artfully designed to seduce lovers of period pieces and high fantasy. It's not particularly deep - nor is it necessarily all that brilliant. But, like any good conjurer's trick, this film is entertaining. The high points are the production design and the acting. Edward Norton and Paul Giamatti speak in weirdly soft tones for much of the film, but they manage to convey a wide range of emotions anyway, and both of them play very compelling characters. I had no …
review by . March 15, 2007
Edward Norton has a habit of acting in movies with twists and turns. This latest flick from 2006 is no exception, and is probably his best role yet. Here, he plays the stage magician Eisenheim, a subtle, humble yet cunning artist who encounters his childhood love, Sophie, one evening at a public performance. Straight away he strives to regain her love and steal her away from the future prince of Austria. The prince however, is no pushover and has the local police chief in his pocket. Eisenheim and …
review by . March 06, 2007
posted in Movie Hype
Others have discussed the plot of the movie, so I won't bore you with minutia.    The Illusionist is an exquisite love story (a genre I'm not normally fond of) and supernatural mystery. (Is it supernatural...or is it an illusion? That question is part of what makes this movie so alluring.)    With the amazing ability to morph into any character, Ed Norton is one of America's finest actors (remember his turn as a mentally/physically challenged man in The Score--or …
About the reviewer
Grady Harp ()
Ranked #96
Grady Harp is a champion of Representational Art in the roles of curator, lecturer, panelist, writer of art essays, poetry, critical reviews of literature, art and music, and as a gallerist. He has presented … more
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First screened in Europe and scheduled for limited release in the U.S.,The Illusionistoffers welcome proof that "arthouse" quality needn't be limited to the arthouses. Set in turn-of-the-century Vienna, this stately, elegant period film benefited from a crossover release in mainstream cinemas, and showed considerable box-office staying power--granted, teenage mallrats and lusty males may have been drawn to the allure ofSeventh Heavenalumna Jessica Biel, who rises to the occasion with a fine performance. But there's equal appeal in the casting of Edward Norton and Paul Giamatti, who bring their formidable talents to bear on the intriguing tale of a celebrated magician named Eisenheim (Norton) whose stage performance offends the Crown Prince Leopold (Rufus Sewell), a vindictive lout who aims to marry Duchess Sophie (Biel), Eisenheim's childhood friend and now, 15 years later, his would-be lover. This romantic rivalry and Eisenheim's increasingly enigmatic craft of illusion are investigated by Chief Inspector Uhl (Giamatti), who's under Leopold's command and is therefore not to be trusted as Eisenheim and Sophie draw closer to their inevitable reunion. Cleverly adapted by director Neil Burger from Steven Millhauser's short story "Eisenheim the Illusionist," and boasting exquisite production values and a fine score by Philip Glass,The Illusionistis the kind of class act that fully deserved its unusually wide and appreciative ...
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Director: Neil Burger
Genre: Drama
Release Date: August 18, 2006
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Runtime: 1hr 49min
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