THE ILLUSIONIST a movie review by Kristen B.
The Illusionist (directed by Neil Burger) takes a classic Romeo and Juliet romance and infuses it with late 19th century magic. The main character, Eisenheim (played by Edward Norten), is our Romeo, in love with the Duchess Sophie von Treschon. Torn away from each other as teens, Eisemheim returns from his world travels as a magician, surpassing all others in skill and attracting even the attention of the Crown Prince Leopold. It is when the prince attends a show with his posse, included in which is the Duchess von Treschon, that the plot really takes off.
The film is set in Vienna, Austria, but it was shot mostly in the Czech Republic. The towns, buildings and other scenes are gorgeous. Through most of the first half of the movie, everything seems awash in reds, golds, bronzes and creams, with very dark brown to accentuate and light blues and greens for contrast. After the major tragedy of the film happens, the scenes are shot with a much gloomier palette, mainly more of a dark blue theme, though still with reddish and golds mixed in. On top of that, the costumes were very well done and matched with the scenes nicely while still standing out. An interesting part of the make-up was the different kinds of moustaches! Eisenheim’s manager, Josef, had a curly one while Chief Inspector Uhl (an integral character) had a messy fluffy one. The Crown Prince had one so very straight and tidy you would think it was fake.
Being a movie about magical illusion, there were of course special effects. I wonder how much slight-of-hand the actors actually did themselves, and how much was added in later? Anyways, effects include magically growing potted trees, butterflies carrying napkins, and ghosts. After the movie takes a darker twist, Eisenheim begins playing ‘medium’, supposedly raising ghosts for a short time to talk to and walk about the living. The effects for this were great; At one point a man puts out a hand in front of a ghost, only to have the ghost walk straight through it and then up some stairs, thudding on the wood as if corporeal all the way.
All of these and everything else about the movie was believable, though I don’t know if an illusionist in the 1890s could have produced effects quite so convincing. In the movie, Eisenheim even manages to halfway convince Inspector Uhl, the man ordered by Prince Leopold to put Eisenheim behind bars. The Inspector (Paul Giamatti) was possibly the best played part in the movie, as he transitions from a simple bad-guy swiftly into the main character somewhere in the middle of the film. As Eisenheim continues to dig himself into a deeper grave with Prince Leopold, the camera’s attentions swing firmly onto Uhl, and we see him fight with himself over decisions, what’s smart and what’s right. Even more than that, all his lines are delivered beautifully.
Inspector Uhl even has a bit of an insightful moment near the end of the film with the movie’s most memorable music, a quick, jumpy, almost happy sounding number. At first, the music didn’t really seem to match the scene, because the circumstances were quite solemn, but then the Inspector made an exciting discovery that led to a frenzy of activity, much more in-tune with the soundtrack. The rest of the movie’s music doesn’t stick out to me very much, so I’m sure it was appropriate to the film.
This last paragraph is a tiny spoiler so look out!
The movie also has a surprise happy ending, when everything before it would lead you to believe the opposite. I myself think I would have preferred the sad one, but for people who need or favor happy romantic endings, this is good news for you! I would recommend this movie to anybody who can deal with a PG-13 rating, some flashes of sex, and a not-really-there suicidal gunshot to the head. Personally, I thought that the movie was pretty great, a nice watch. It would be pretty easily forgettable, though, if it weren’t for the suspense and thrills laced throughout the movie. Go ahead and watch it!