Adapted by director Neil Burger from Steven Millhauser’s short story Eisenheim the Illusionist, this historical melodrama set in an eerily unspecific Prague at the turn of the last century begins with Inspector Uhl (Paul Giammatti) arresting a magician, Eisenheim (Edward Norton), during the invocation and resumption of his lover Sophie’s ghost. The story then shifts to Uhl’s retelling of the history between Eisenheim and the upper-class Sophie (an oddly cast Jessica Biel; she is, it appears, the shiny thing that comes to distract the audience while the magician moves his hand beneath the table) to the Crown Prince Leopold (Rufus Sewell). Though this historical retelling develops into an interesting thematic thread and begins the film’s use of cinematic misdirection, the convention of retelling lacks the soothsaying quality that allows most voice-overed back story to pass by without nuisance, and in spite of the expert cinematography by Dick Pope and the rich and complex score by Phillip Glass, the film suffers under the weight of non-committal performances and awkward accents. Much in the same way that Shakespeare in Love creatively reinterpreted historical document to serve its narrative agenda, The Illusionist bends the motives and suggested causality of recorded history, and in the process creates its own definition for illusion. Amusingly, this (version) of history told by the film is again rewritten in the conclusion, and f you remember the end of The Usual Suspects, you can imagine exactly how it all goes. If only it was rewritten in a manner different than the Bryan Singer film, well that would have been magic, wouldn’t it?
- Neil Burger
- Neil Burger
- Edward Norton, Paul Giamatti, Jessica Biel, Rufus Sewell, Eddie Marsan, James Babson, Brian Caspe, Tom Fisher, Aaron Johnson, Erich Redman, Ellen Savaria, Jake Wood
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