Trick and Retreat

Spoiler alert … (I think)

Edward Norton stars as Eisenheim the Illusionist, the new stage sensation in Vienna circa 1900. His illusions are so unbelievable that the audience is convinced he’s in control of supernatural forces. Well, maybe he is, but there are men who’d like to think he’s not. On the top of that list is Crown Prince Leopold (Rufus Sewell), who attempts to expose the duplicity behind the magic. The story grows more complex with the introduction of Princess Sophie (Jessica Biel) – Leopold’s bride-to-be and coincidentally, also Eisenheim’s long lost love. Once Leopold finds out Eisenheim and Sophie’s past romance, he enlists Inspector Uhl (Paul Giamatti) to rid of Eisenheim and his show. Let the showdown begin. Who has the best tricks up their sleeves? Who will be forced to retreat?

While there’s no acting for Academy Awards to notice, there’s not much fluke in the cast either. Norton, Sewell, and Giamatti embody their roles pretty well. And yes, even Jessica Biel proves she can fit in a costume drama. Good for her. The cinematography is also fantastic. Kudos to the Academy for granting it a worthy nomination. The movie’s look gives the illusion as if the film was lit only by daylight, flame, and fire. The story itself has some intriguing notions (childhood romance and a prince in a position to do some damage). Even the magic scenes have a certain allure to them. While we are full aware that these are special effects, these scenes still manage to gather some awe.

Unfortunately, the film suffers from a setting, which roughly reflects or dictates the outcome. Movies that involve magicians or conmen have a high probability that they have some trick ending. It’s fitting because their lifestyle involves deception. I don’t know. Maybe only this seems only apparent to me. Not only did I anticipate the film’s ending but I also managed to find some of the clues, as to verify my calculated outcome. The movie terribly failed to make me doubt my predictions. I don’t doubt “The Illusionist” has the magic, but it can’t pull off its biggest trick.

Grade: B+

Edward Norton, Jessica Biel, Paul Giamatti, Rufus Sewell, and Eddie Marsan
Based on the short story “Eisenheim the Illusionist” by
Steven Millhauser
Screenplay by
Neil Burger
Directed by
Neil Burger
Rated PG-13 for some sexuality and violence