Reviewed by GREG KING.
It sometimes seems that Hollywood produces two movies on the same theme at the same time – it happened with Deep Impact and Armageddon, and just last year there were two films dealing with Truman Capote and the writing of the classic true crime novel In Cold Blood. And now we have two movies dealing with magic and magicians. Last year there was The Prestige, with Hugh Jackman and Christian Bale as rival magicians, and now Edward Norton plays a magician in The Illusionist. While the two films will inevitably be compared, The Illusionist is a murder mystery and vastly different in ideas and plot, even though it follows the same basic three act structure of the good magic trick. Similarly it rewards close viewing as there are a number of twists and turns in the plot. But where this film differs is in its atmosphere and its engrossing plot in which Norton plays Eisenheim, a famous magician caught up in political intrigue in 19th century Austria.
This is the sophomore film for Neal Burger, whose debut feature Interview With The Assassin failed to gain a local release. It has been quite stylishly directed, and unfolds in a deliberately slow, intricate fashion. The film has been beautifully photographed in ambient lighting and colours, and the period detail is quite authentic.
As usual, Norton is excellent and delivers a largely internal, introspective performance. Paul Giammatti is also solid as the police detective charged with spying on and reporting on Eisenheim’s activities. Jessica Biel provides the eye candy and love interest, while Rufus Sewell is wonderfully sinister as the villain of the piece.