Set in beautiful Vienna at the turn of the century, The Illusionist is a tale of love lost and found again, magic and mystery – all with a hint of political intrigue.
The sets and locations used are visually outstanding with the old buildings looking as good as new whilst the tiny theaters really give the illusion (sorry) of life in the early 1900’s.
Shot exclusively in sepia, the film is shot to look like it was actually captured at the turn of the century. This, combined with the seemingly burnt edges of each shot (echoing the scars left on old photographs imprinted by the heat of the camera bulb), is a daring yet visually stunning choice made by director Neil Burger that helps add to the film’s aged feel.
Neil Burger adapted the film from the short story ‘Esienheim The Illusionist’ by Steven Millhauser. Edward Norton is superb in the lead role, doing his usual routine of having the audience completely convinced and amazed with his acting talents. He plays a character who loses the love of his life, played by Jessica Biel, not once, but twice after she is torn away from him when it seems they may be reunited. The role he plays is a much tamer one in contrast to previous roles; he allows the film to develop and grow around him submerging his character into the story.
Another fantastic performance is given by Paul Giamatti to complement Norton’s lead. Giamatti plays the inquisitive police detective who is been ordered to arrest Norton. Torn between his duties and dedication to the evil Crown Prince Leopold (Rufus Sewell), he battles between what he knows to be right and wrong.
The magic is based on actual tricks performed during turn-of-the-century shows and is helped to life with a bit of present-day movie magic. If the tricks do not intrigue then the story-line will grip you and have you puzzled until the last moment.
Best scene: Where Norton does a sword in the stone trick with the Crown Prince’s sword and he is unable to lift it for a moment.
Best line: ‘I promise you, you’ll enjoy this next show.’
Best looking: Jessica Biel.
Best trick: The Orange Tree.