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The Illusionist

A drama movie directed by Neil Burger

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Don't Believe What You See

  • Dec 24, 2008

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" elements. Writer/director Neil Burger made the film on a relatively small budget, but this doesn't have a negative impact on the end result. On the contrary, The Illusionist is a better film than most supernatural thrillers because it relies on characterization to carry the story, rather than over-the-top action and unnecessary special effects. The few special effects in the film are subtle and understated, which in some strange way only makes them more impressive.
Edward Norton as Eisenheim the Illusionist

The story is set in Vienna, during the dawn of the 20th century, where an illusionist named Eisenheim causes a commotion with his startling magic tricks. He soon attracts the intention of the social elite, including Vienna's own Crown Prince Leopold. Leopold, an arrogant, ambitious, and cynical man, feels threatened by Eisenheim's extraordinary abilities. He is outraged that Eisenheim knows more than he, and so as a ploy to reveal Eisenheim's methods, Leopold offers his fiancée, the beautiful Duchess Sophie von Teschen to participate in one of Eisenheim's illusions. However, Crown Prince Leopold is ignorant to the fact that Eisenheim and the duchess were once childhood sweethearts and that Eisenheim made her a promise that they would one day be reunited. After Eisenheim's uncanny performance, he and the duchess rekindle their romance. When the jealous Crown Prince Leopold learns that the duchess has been unfaithful to him, he is consumed by jealousy and rage. When the duchess' body is found to have been murdered, the public suspects the crown prince has killed her, though they dare not voice their suspicions. But Leopold suspects Eisenheim's trickery played some part in his fiancée's death, so he assigns Chief Inspector Uhl to uncover Eisenheim's secrets. Yet, Uhl is confounded when Eisenheim begins summoning disembodied spirits during his performances, and when Eisenheim conjures Duchess von Teschen's spirit on stage, the audience cries out that Crown Prince Leopold has murdered her. Fearing that a revolution against the monarchy may be at hand, Uhl doubles his efforts to unravel the growing mystery surrounding Eisenheim's abilities, the duchess' death, and what part if any that the crown prince had to play in her murder. But Uhl's investigation takes him deep into a world of illusion and conspiracy, where nothing is what it seems.

Jessica Biel as Duchess Sophie von Teschen
One of the film's greatest strengths is the extraordinary ensemble cast, which features Edward Norton as Eisenheim the Illusionist, Paul Giamatti as Chief Inspector Uhl, Rufus Sewell as Crown Prince Leopold, and Jessica Biel as Duchess Sophie von Teschen. While Norton, Giamatti, and Sewell give typically strong performances, the real surprise is Jessica Biel, who gives what may be her most complex and convincing performance yet.
Paul Giamatti as Chief Inspector Uhl

Where the film fails ever so slightly is that director Neil Burger seems to be attempting to make some sort of a statement about the role that spirituality plays in politics. But this shortcoming is outweighed by the film's many superlatives. Employing numerous sleight of hand tricks to manipulate the audience's perception of the storyline, Neil Burger creates an ambiguity, which will leave viewers questioning whether anything truly supernatural occurred or whether the seeming magic that took place was just an elaborate deception. I'll let you decide, but remember: Don't believe what you see.

DVD cover Edward Norton as Eisenheim the Illusionist Jessica Biel as Sophie Von Teschen Paul Giamatti as Chief inspector Uhl Rufus Sewell as Crown Prince Leopold

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October 22, 2010
I actually liked both about the same, great review.
October 22, 2010
Really? Most people I know liked "The Illusionist" more, but I preferred "The Prestige" mainly because of the cast, Nolan's direction, and the darker tone of the story.
August 26, 2010
I like how the story starts with Eisenheim's arrest and narrative continues from there. I like the vanishing trick, the great acting- yes, Prestige was perhaps the better film, but Prestige focused on the rivalry between two magicians while Illusionist focuses on the love story. The end twist is too traditional, and I in the end felt pity to the crown prince- he is right, in a way. Good film, good review,
January 01, 2009
Nice work, Count. Seems like you moved all of your reviews... saw your post and I will work on that review in two weeks, I have to find my dvd of "Bride with White Hair".
December 25, 2008
I just saw this film recently and agree, it has a compelling story anchored by Edward Norton's performance as a troubled, lowly magician in love with a princess, but the drama relies too heavily on the "big twist" at the end. You have a gut feeling things will turn out right, you just don't know precisely how the pieces will fit together. While I liked the resolution, the fact that I was anticipating it and too wrapped up in the journey resulted in "The Illusionist" being a little too conventional than I had hoped.
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 . 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 …
review by . February 03, 2007
Edward Norton heads up a wonderful cast which includes Rufus Sewell, Paul Giamatti and Jessica Biel in "The Illusionist." It's a wonderful story of just how far a man will go to get back to the love of his life. Norton portrays Eisenheim, an illusionist who has a penchant for bizarre, almost supernatural magic tricks that captivate his audience. As a teen, he falls for a young duchess (Biel). However, he being the poor son of commoners and she being royalty, their love is forbidden and the two are …
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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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