Thursday, August 9, 2012

The Illusionist (2006) [PG-13] ****

Edward and Sophie were childhood friends in 1890s Vienna; as teenagers they fell in love. They promised their hearts to one another, but their love was doomed because Sophie was titled, and Edward was a commoner, the son of a cabinetmaker.

Separated and forbidden to see one another, Edward left Vienna and traveled east to Russia and the Orient. According to legend, at the start of his journey he met an old wizard sitting beneath a tree. The wizard performed several amazing illusions for Edward, before vanishing, an experience Edward took as a sign. Fifteen years later Edward returns to Vienna, now known as Eisenheim the Illusionist. His masterful illusions are the talk of the town, and soon Crown Prince Leopold himself comes to observe, along with his consort Sophie, now the Duchess von Teschen.

When Leopold offers Sophie as a volunteer in one of Eisenheim's illusions, the two recognize each other and their love is reawakened. But Leopold is a dark, dangerous, violent man who reportedly murdered a previous consort, and is rumored to be plotting the overthrow of his father, the Emperor. If Sophie flees with Eisenheim, Leopold would surely follow them to the ends of the Earth. But Eisenheim has a plan, involving Sophie, Police Inspector Uhl, and Leopold himself.

The Illusionist is an incredible romantic thriller. The screenplay is taut, with sparse, powerful dialogue and a clear story arc. Direction and editing are outstanding, with perfect pacing, and scene structure that heightens the mystery and suspense. The cinematography is inspired, with great use of lighting, and sepia tones that enhance the period quality of the lovely costumes and sets. The casting is excellent, with perfect dramatic timing and palpable romantic chemistry between Edward Norton as Eisenheim and Jessica Biel as Sophie, as well as brilliant performances by Paul Giamatti as Uhl and Rufus Sewell as Leopold. There are few period romantic thrillers as good as The Illusionist. 

Labels: drama, mystery, romance, thriller    
Internet Movie Database     
Metacritic 68/100    
RottenTomatoes Averages (critics=69, viewers=76)    

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