The Illusionist

  • Film
  • Drama
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A good magician never explains his tricks, a lesson Neil Burger’s beautifully realised film gives the impression of respecting extremely well, wringing involving drama from its protagonist’s and its own mysterious sleights of hand. Turn-of-the-last-century Vienna, and stage magician Eisenheim (Edward Norton) is performing illusions so astonishing there are rumours he has supernatural powers. Unconvinced, Crown Prince Leopold (Rufus Sewell) assigns Chief Inspector Uhl (Paul Giamatti), to investigate his secrets. Unknown to all, though, the illusionist’s teenage sweetheart, Duchess Sophie von Teschen (Jessica Biel), is the Prince’s ‘intended’ and after she’s ordered to assist Eisenheim onstage, old feelings resurface to ignite a dangerous rivalry.

Like Burger’s 2002 debut, ‘Interview with the Assassin’, ‘The Illusionist’ inhabits a world flickering between reality and illusion; as we follow Uhl’s investigations, we’re kept guessing about whether Eisenheim is the performer of merely unbelievably good tricks or genuine supernatural acts. In its fin de siècle setting, it also flickers between two ages: while the love triangle between lowly hero, fair duchess and evil prince looks back to ancient fairytales, its evocations of cinema’s infancy – sepia palette, iris shots and, in one scene, an early film projector – point to the media-saturated future which, as Eisenheim’s apparent raising of the dead begins to undermine the Prince’s authority, provokes interesting questions about the way illusions consolidate leaders’ powers today. With exquisite performances (Giamatti’s, in particular), it leaves you thrillingly hovering, happily uncommitted to any one interpretation – right until the end, that is, where Uhl seems to figure it all out in a clever-clever turnaround you’d thought the film was above. Or does he? It’s only his explanation, after all.

Release details

Rated: PG
Release date: Friday March 2 2007
Duration: 109 mins

Cast and crew

Director: Neil Burger
Screenwriter: Neil Burger
Cast: Edward Norton
Paul Giamatti
Jessica Biel
Rufus Sewell
Eddie Marsan

Average User Rating

5 / 5

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