DVD review: The Illusionist

The Illusionist
Fox Home Entertainment

Is any I know to be true, real, or is any I know to be real, true? These are the questions that fuel the psychological engine of The Illusionist. Written and directed by Neil Burger, The Illusionist stars Edward Norton and Jessica Biel, with a truly stand-out performance by Paul Giamatti as the Chief Inspector. In fact, all the players deliver in spades. We are each so entombed in our beliefs that the concept of reality becomes abstract if not downright inconvenient, and this film puts on the pillow gloves and slaps us around with this from the opening minutes.

Someone sold their soul to the Devil, or did they? Someone was murdered. Or were they? Someone should pay, or should he? Magic is real, or is it? Giving equal weight to both sides of a question is no mean feat, and with our (purportedly) rational thought processes in the way, becomes artful.

Eisenheim (Norton) and Sophie (Biel) were childhood sweethearts, but she was high-born and he a cabinet makers son. The Aristocracy was less than thrilled with this state of affairs in eighteenth century Austria and nipped it in the bud. He goes off to seek his fortune, which we find out fifteen years later, is as a great Illusionist. She is to wed the Crown Prince and soon to be Emperor, Leopold (Rufus Sewell). They attend a performance where she ends up on stage. Eisenheim recognizes her almost immediately, but she is slower, as if she can not trust herself to hope, and the triangle is set.

The twists and turns from there could give you whiplash f you’re not careful, with the Chief Inspector as dutiful but unwilling bullyboy. This is a well made and sumptuous yarn and Jessica Beil steps out of her usual roles into this beautifully. Edward Norton has the difficult task of making us care about a man who can’t reveal much. He does.

The tone of a film is important and this one has it to spare. Outstandingly shot and costumed with the feel of old Vienna dripping from every frame. Check the Directors commentary for little gems like the object manipulations being performed by the actors after much hard work and their wish to stay accurate with the period and especially the tricks, only augmenting them for effect or when there was no other real option. It’s a fairly dark movie in its feeling but it hooked me and I enjoyed it. Or was that an illusion too?
Buy The Illusionist here.

Lee Crawford