Edward Norton does magic tricks, Jessica Biel swoons
Director/Writer: Neil Burger
Starring: Edward Norton, Paul Giamatti, Jessica Biel
Studio info: Yari Film Group
A love story set in 1900 Vienna, The Illusionist indulges timeless fairytale aesthetics, employing loads of blurry fades and soft, luscious lighting, draping demure, pink-cheeked ladies in elaborate gowns, and slapping ridiculously sinister moustaches on shifty villains. There’s something comforting about reliving the staid imagery of childhood tales but, unfortunately, The Illusionist’s plot feels stale—the film pits Eisenheim, a talented stage magician (Edward Norton, drifting in and out of an Austrian accent) against reigning royal nastyman, the Crown Prince Leopold (Rufus Sewell) as they duel for the affections of the Dutchess Sophie von Teschen (Jessica Biel, at her most mesmerizing). Paul Giamatti—as Eisenheim’s quasi-sympathetic foil, Chief Inspector Uhl—soars, all tight lips and shifty eyes, and Philip Glass’ score is transcendent. Still, while Neil Burger—who wrote and directed the film (his second, following 2002’s confounding Interview with an Assassin)—may have hoped The Illusionist’s closing twist was enough to override its contrived plot, even fairytales require better surprises than this.