Sunday, October 01, 2006

Fascinating Filmmaking

Magic, love and mystery abound in THE ILLUSIONIST, a spellbinding film set in Vienna at the turn of the 19th century. Edward Norton stars as Eisenheim, an enigmatic magician who performs amazing tricks that seem much more than sleight-of-hand entertainment. During his shows, Eisenheim talks about such deep subjects as space and time, life and death, fate and chance. He also appears to raise spirits from the dead.

Because of Eisenheim is so popular with the masses, Prince Leopold (Rufus Sewell) commands Chief Inspector Uhl (Paul Giamatti) to find out everything about him -- and, finally, to do anything necessary to get rid of the man. Although Uhl has ambitions that can only be achieved by helping the cunning and powerful Leopold, he harbors mixed feelings about this assignment. He is an amateur magician who admires Eisenheim, and he has difficulty discovering any crime for which the magician can be arrested.

Love enters the picture with Sophie (Jessica Biel), the beautiful woman Leopold has chosen as his fiance. When Leopold volunteers her as an assistant for an Eisenheim trick, Sophie and the magician recognize each other. They were childhood sweethearts who were torn apart because she comes from a royal family and he (called Edward then) is the son of a cabinet maker. Their feelings for each other have never changed, and they want to be together always. That will not be easy because the power-mad Leopold needs Sophie to carry out his plans which involve ousting his father and becoming Emperor himself. When Sophie tells him she is leaving, a series of events take place that seem to make a happy ending impossible. However, never underestimate the great Eisenheim.

I think THE ILLUSIONIST is one of the most fascinating films of the year. Edward Norton looks great in a VanDyke beard and does an outstanding job in his first serious romantic role; Jessica Biel shows she is more than a pretty face; Paul Giametti redeems himself after his unexciting performance in LADY IN THE WATER; plus, as the villain, Rufus Sewell made me want to yell BOO whenever he appeared on screen.

THE ILLUSIONIST is a perfect example of what I call a MOVIE MOVIE. Everything about the film -- acting, dialogue, costumes, sets, music and cinematography transported me back in time to 19th century Vienna for a magical adventure.


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