Review: The Illusionist

Set in 1900 Vienna, with Edward Norton playing Eisenheim the Illusionist, a man from a humble background, whose illusions are so real-seeming that people believe him to conjure dark spirits. Paul Giamatti is Chief Inspector Uhl, on the payroll of the evil Crown Prince (a scowling Rufus Sewell), who is convinced that Eisenheim is a charlatan, and wants Uhl (genuinely interested in the art of magic and trickery) to prove it. At one point, Sewell uses his girlfriend Jessica Biel (out of her depth) as a volunteer at one of Eisenheim’s performances, not knowing that the two were actually childhood sweethearts, with feelings still lingering.

Handsome, low-key and solemn 2006 Neil Burger (“Interview With the Assassin”) film comes close to working moderately well, but the ‘magic’ tricks used are aided by technology that would not have been available at the when this film is set, thus ruining the experience for me. I could never get into it, because I never believed it. Norton is well-cast and persuasive, and Giamatti is also rock-solid in support. I simply lost interest, I didn’t believe in the magic, and the twist towards the end, whilst predictable, isn’t very satisfying or plausible. Scripted by the director, from a short story by Pulitzer Prize winner Steven Millhauser. This one’s just OK at best, bordering on ‘meh’, but I probably enjoyed it slightly more than the similar “The Prestige”.

Rating: C+


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