Since Edward Norton's debut in the stunning 1996 thriller "Primal Fear," he has been one of the most consistent actors - perhaps forgetting "Death to Smoochy." Ten years later, he is still turning in edgy performances in drastically different roles. "The Illusionist" is his latest quality film, and while it doesn't allow him to show his range the way some other films have, it is certainly a must-see picture.
An old fashioned mystery thriller, "The Illusionist" is more of a plot-based story about a man named Eisenheim the Illusionist (Norton), considered to be about the best at what he does. No one, not even his staff, know how his illusions work - if his illusions are even just that. After the future emperor (Rufus Sewell, in yet another villain role) comes to a performance, however, Eisenheim realizes that the man is engaged to his own childhood sweetheart, the Dutchess Sophie (Jessica Biel). A love triangle ensues, as Sophie still loves Eisenheim while she can't simply get away from Crown Prince Leopold, a man notorious for getting his way, even if it means murder. Eisenheim quickly devises a plan for Sophie to run away with him, but, thanks to the watchful eye of Chief Inspector Uhl (Paul Giamatti), the Crown Prince is able to confront Sophie before she escapes. What ensues next triggers a series of events that will square off a prince against a magician, with a hesitant police officer caught in the middle.
"The Illusionist" is an incredibly captivating piece of work, and certainly a unique one. A film with a small hint of the supernatural yet grounded pretty much in reality, the movie expands the imagination while not forcing you to really put it to work. More than anything else, the movie is a successful thriller, with interesting characters and a suspenseful plot. The ending, while not completely unpredictable, is a satisfying finale with a small twist.
The acting is top notch. While Ed Norton has been edgier in other roles, he successfully manages the quiet, brooding type quite well here, allowing his anger to boil over only in a few small sequences. Turning in more captivating performances are Giamatti and Sewell, as both handle their respective characters with depth, even though those characters would often be one-dimensional in other movies. Biel is also quite good in a role she often doesn't play; this movie should open up whole new genres for her.
"The Illusionist," while not perfect, is an engaging little thriller that succeeds on its performances, its mystery and its old fashion style. Recommended.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.
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