Sunday, September 03, 2006

MOVIE REVIEW: The Illusionist

I love the bandwagon mentality of Hollywood. A couple of years ago I heard about a project that Chris Nolan (Batman Begins, Memento) wanted to tackle called The Prestige. Not long after he finished with Batman Begins I heard another report that the script was locked and he had his cast. Christian Bale, Michael Kane and Hugh Jackman. Wow you can't snub your nose at that cast. So of course, you hear the headlines Wolverine squares off with Batman in new movie about magicians. I saw the trailer over the summer and I got excited. Now just last month I saw a trailer with Ed Norton sporting that goatee that makes him look dangerous and mysterious. I saw Jessica Biel and Paul Giamatti and it looked like Rufus Sewell playing yet another creepy royal. What the hell is this, The Illusionist? It looked like some studio had heard about The Prestige and decided to rain on Chris Nolan's parade by releasing this duplicate magician movie, and to put it out a full month and a half before. What the hell was going on? I was intrigued by the trailer though, and again, I can't say no to Ed Norton or to the beautiful Jessica Biel, unless we're talking about Stealth... and maybe that third Blade movie... Before I go much further the cinematography was excellent. The sets, the scenery the effects were all magnificent. I felt like I was watching Nosferatu from 1922, except in color. The acting was excellent and I'm confident that Ed Norton and Paul Giamatti will be garnering Oscar nods for their work.

The story follows a young magician in the making who makes the mistake of consorting with a young girl who is apart of the upper class royalty in Vienna. The young man grows up and changes his name to Eisenheim (Ed Norton); he performs as an illusionist for the public. He garners a special invite to perform for the Prince of Vienna (Rufus Sewell) and pisses him off by flirting with the Prince's fiancée, Sophie (Jessica Biel). The Prince asks his right hand man Chief Inspector Uhl (Paul Giamatti) to investigate the magician and to expose his secrets.

I have to admit I really liked this movie. When the film began I couldn't tell if there was something off about the score. It sounded as if the projector needed cleaning. The picture was great, the main audio was fine but something seemed off with the score. Then I realized something, it sounded like a really old movie they had just collected from some library in Prague, they put it between the spokes and flipped the projector on. I cannot tell you if it was intentional or not but it did a very effective job of setting the mood. I felt like I was in Vienna at the turn of the Century, late 1800s. This movie was not what I thought it was going to be and for that I was pleasantly surprised. It was a top notch film and I recommend everyone to go and see it. There aren't very many effects but the ones they have are very good and very subtle. I really love all the deception and sleight of hand tricks, its fun and interesting and this may be the first time, at least for me, to see Paul Giamatti play a strong decisive character. Usually he plays these nebbish geeks. Not this time my friends. His Inspector Uhl is crafty, sometimes devious, almost menacing. This film I believe is still in a platform release, but just this week it has been released to about 971 screens nationwide, so be on the lookout for it. It may not be easy to find but if you do check it out you won't be disappointed.

The Prestige opens October 20.

Grade: 4 Buckets

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