Unlock the mysteries of the year's most spellbinding film from the producers of Crash and Sideways! Oscar(r) nominees Paul Giamatti and Edward Norton lead an all-star cast in this "stunning" film (USA Today) that conjures... more » an exhilarating blend of suspense, romance and mind-bending twists. The acclaimed illusionist Eisenheim (Norton) has not only captured the imaginations of all of Vienna, but also the interest of the ambitious Crown Prince Leopold (Rufus Sewell). But when Leopold's new fiancée (Jessica Biel) rekindles a childhood fascination with Eisenheim, the Prince's interest evolves into obsession...and suddenly the city's Chief Inspector (Giamatti) finds himself investigating a shocking crime. But even as the Inspector engages him in a dramatic challenge of wills, Eisenheim prepares for his most impressive illusion yet in this "mesmerizing" (Entertainment Weekly) and "beautifully acted" (Good Morning America) film that "teases you until the very end!" (The New York Times).« less
Rating - Overall 7 out of 10 / Acting 6 out of 10 / Story 7 out of 10
Edward Norton / Paul Giamatti / Jessica Biel
Background - This covers the Mayerling incident in which the crown prince of Austria and his lover Baroness Vestera committed suicide at a hunting lodge having a profound effect on the history of the 19th century. This takes place in 1889.
“The Illusionist” is a moderately entertaining movie with many compelling moments but in the end it never rises above similar movies. The best way to classify this movie is as a “mind game” movie. A movie in which there is some major twist or puzzle that you, as an audience member, are not meant to figure out, but which when we revealed will cause pleasant surprise. That is this movie. You watch it trying to figure out how Edward Norton’s character is doing his various tricks or if perhaps they are indeed authentic and not tricks. Despite the fact most audience members will fixate on the Norton character as the protagonist, it is in fact the inspector character played by Paul Giamatti (the best performance out of any of the actors).
Early on, via narration, we learn about how Eisenheim met a magician and from there learned magic and eventually made his way back to Vienna, where as fate would have it, the noble girl he had once loved is not set to be married to the crown prince of Austria. It also so happens that the Crown Prince is a particularly unsympathetic scoundrel who deserves zero sympathy.
And it is that which leads to my biggest problem with the film. Throughout the film we learn that the Crown Prince is plotting to overthrow his dad and that he has supposedly beat or killed previous women (without seeing this it is hard to accept this as justifying what happens later) and is an overall pompous ass. The final “trick” performed by Eisenheim has as it’s effect the death of this character. Without revealing too much, it just seems egregious.
Are we supposed to root for the character who basically manipulated the Crown Prince’s death so he can make away with the women he was betrothed to because that was his childhood crush? I mean yes, the Prince was not a good character, but this is a love story and not a political/action thriller where that sort of thing can be expected. At any rate, that was my major quibble and it didn’t entirely ruin the movie for me, but it certainly lessened it’s impact.
It's also important to note that no matter how much the Crown Prince disliked Norton's character (they were rivals), he never orders his death or explicitly orders that he be apprehended even. So in essence, as bad as he was he never does any of the things he could have and which were within his power. Meanwhile, our good guy goes through immense machinations in order to see that he dies so he can steal his girl…..and yes, perhaps save the monarchy I suppose. Still…..
The performances were average. Biel never looks quite comfortable in the role and Norton, who plays Eisenheim, plays the part too close to the chest, never allowing the character to show any emotion at all. This is fine, after all he is a magician and meant to be mysterious, but the crux of the entire story is that he is so in love with a woman that he basically risks everything to get her back. The one scene where they make love had the chemistry of a blind date at Starbucks. Giamatti was fantastic. He plays the part of the inspector perfectly and we become genuinely transfixed by his own predicament which climaxes in an unexpected way at the end. Rufus Sewell, who played the Crown Prince, was perfect.
0 of 1 member(s) found this review helpful.
Jennifer D. (jennicat) from ST AUGUSTINE, FL Reviewed on 3/29/2014...
0 of 1 member(s) found this review helpful.
John P. from BELLINGHAM, WA Reviewed on 9/5/2013...
We really enjoyed this movie! It has mystery, romance, intrigue, and fabulous Edward Norton. The story is very engrossing and the acting is excellent. This movie is now one of our favorites.
2 of 2 member(s) found this review helpful.
Ramon B. (bsq) from SAN JUAN, PR Reviewed on 12/1/2012...
Delores M. from COLUMBIA, SC Reviewed on 10/4/2009...
The plot is well crafted and the characters are fairly three-dimensional. This was a different type of love story and that is the underlying beauty of the movie for me. The battle of the underdog and the lead dog is more of an intellectual battle than a physical one and it is fascinating to watch over and over again.
The narration throughout the move is essential, especially when describing how the ultimate illusion was done at the end. In fact, the illusions were the best I have seen on cinema.
I really enjoyed the director's commentary. It was just as good as the actual movie. The background information was very interesting. It wasn't just the cast watching the movie for the first time with a tip or comment thrown in here and there. They provided great information. It makes a difference for some of us in the industry.
Overall, I thought this was a great movie and I enjoyed it very much. I'll hold onto it for awhile.
7 of 7 member(s) found this review helpful.
Alice H. (singlegalkansas) from TOPEKA, KS Reviewed on 1/18/2009...
Great movie, with great twist at end!
1 of 5 member(s) found this review helpful.
Valerie P. (vprosser) from ORLEANS, MI Reviewed on 6/27/2008...
I didn't know much about this movie, so I didn't have very high expectations. Let's just say that this was a spectacular movie! I loved everything about it. It was like someone reading you a story, and the twists and turns are amazing. I highly recommend this one.
2 of 2 member(s) found this review helpful.
Karen T. from CLEWISTON, FL Reviewed on 6/4/2008...
I love this movie! This is the kind of movie with each actor is well fitted to the part/charater they are portraying.
It is like a good book, just have to keep turning the pages and found out what happens next.
The sound track is beautiful and the illusions are wonderful. Just enough twists and turns to keep things interesting.
3 of 4 member(s) found this review helpful.
Aimee M. (AimeeM) Reviewed on 11/16/2007...
Not as predictable as most movies. It has enough action to keep you excited, and plenty of plot twists to keep you interested.
4 of 5 member(s) found this review helpful.
All Is Not What It Seems / Is That All There Is?
prisrob | New EnglandUSA | 08/21/2006
(5 out of 5 stars)
""Eisenheim, making it easier to appreciate the movie's elegant cinematic sleight of hand. As with any good magic show, the fun of a picture like this lies in knowing that we're being tricked and trying to figure out how the trick works, rather than having the rug pulled out from under us all of a sudden at the end." LA Times.
"The Illusionist" directed by Neil Burger is a powerful film that tells the darkly, romantic story of an "Illusionist", Eisenheim, played by Edward Norton who falls in love as a teenager to Sophie von Teschen, Jesscia Biel. Because Eisenhiem was poor and Sophie from a wealthy upper-class family the union was not to be. We return to the Vienna of the 1900's, Eisenheim is now a famous Illusionist and he finds Sophie is engaged to Crown Prince Leopold, one who is said to be a sadist with his ladies. In the opening scene, Eisenheim is found alone on the stage. The dark, simple, dreary, stage that comes to life when Eisenheim displays his art. This magic is worrisome to Crown Prince Leopold, played by Rufus Sewell and he orders Chief Inspector Uhl, Paul Giamatti, to arrest Eisenheim for fraud. This dark, sinister plot adds to the feel of the film, it is as if the dim light hides a glow. The magic of an orange seed that blooms into a full orange tree bearing fruit. And, the ghosts that fade into view and then disappear. We want it to be so, we want to believe that "all is not what it seems", and then again "is that all there is?"
The plot thickens as Sophie faces danger and Eisenheim accuses Crown Prince Leopold of misdeeds. A game of cat and mouse ensues and it is Chief Inspector Uhl who becomes the centrist trying to decide who "The Illusionist" is and what is real. Paul Giamatti steals this movie, in my opinion. He is ruthless and thoughtful and in the end we discover he is also a man of the law. We discover, through Chief Inspector Uhl that this film is a moral story about power and deception.
The photography and film are powerful. The old Austria is well represented. The feel of the early 1900's and the era of Prince Joseph Franz and what is to come, spring to life through the scenes of the richness of Crown Prince Leopold's surroundings compared to a simple hunting lodge. We are able to feel the darkness and the glow that survives.
The soundtrack to "The Illusionist" recorded by Philip Glass is a marvelous score. The music becomes a large part of the movie, telling the story when there is no dialogue. The music is eerie and telling and lovely and matches the darkness that starts to glow.
This is a movie to remember, a movie to ruminate -is this real, is that all there is? The wooden necklace that Sophie wears was made by Eisenheim just for Sophie, and is an allegory of this film. It is made in such a way that when opened, becomes a heart with a picture of a young Eisenheim inside. Think about this- when opened, the truth is revealed. "This is a movie in which the future doesn't exist -- all that matters is the misty golden halo of its own present, a vibrant city standing at the edge of a new century. Blink and it's gone. But at least the glow remains." salon.com
Highly Recommended. prisrob 08-21-06 "
Sepia-toned Beauty in Mystery and Passion
Kelly L. Norman | Plymouth, MI United States | 09/24/2006
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Set in Vienna, filmed in Prague,and just about as lovely as anything I've seen on the large screen, "The Illusionist" stars Edward Norton as a charismatic magician, and Jessica Biel as his high-born love interest. In keeping with its magic and later, occult, theme, the film unwinds through shadow and darkness, like a carriage being horsedrawn through fin-de-siecle Europe's narrow streets. Philip Glass's minimalist score, rather than acting as an anachronism as one might expect, enhances the ethereal, other-worldly quality. Edward Norton brings to Eisenheim, the central character (the book is based on the short story "Eisenheim, the Illusionist", by Steven Millhauser)an understated quality that adds to the sense that he always knows more than we do...and more than the characters in the film, including the two that most want to undo his works of magic, Inspector Uhl and Crown Prince Leopold. Unfortunately, the latter is engaged to Dutchess Sophie van Teschen, Biel's character. Leopold's intent is not only to prevent his lower class rival's success, but to control Sophie completely. Uhl, on the other hand, continues to respect Eisenheim, even as he is carrying out the Crown Prince's orders to shut the magician's show down.
As the tale unwinds (and it does ever more quickly as it moves toward the end), we do learn more and more about what lies behind Eisenheim's sad eyes. When Sophie's body turns up in the river after an argument with Leopold, Eisenheim's shows take on a dark change and he becomes kind of a "John Edwards" of the 19th century...but this John Edwards can summon holographic ghosts onto the stage, much to the delight of his audience. Is he becoming more and more obsessed and perhaps insane as Sophie begins to appear in these seances? In a twinkling, we find out as much about Eisenheim as we have during the entire film, and the lines in the Sophie-Leopold-Eisenheim triangle between the innocent and the devious aren't so clear.
A film to be savored."
Film example of great storytelling
C. Middleton | Australia | 03/03/2007
(5 out of 5 stars)
"This is an excellent gothic thriller based on the short story by Steven Millhauser, Eisenheim The Illusionist, set in late 19th century Vienna about the son of a young cabinetmaker who falls in love with a young Viennese aristocrat and is banned from seeing her as he is a basic commoner. As the legend goes about the young lad, he meets a travelling magician on the road who shows him the secrets of illusion, where he sets off to exotic lands to learn the mysteries of life. He returns to Vienna after his travels and opens a show in the great city to astonish not only Vienna's common public with his quasi supernatural illusions, but also Crown Prince Rudolf, son of Emperor Franz Josef who then reigned over the Austrian Hungarian Empire.
Originally the short story was written as a political criticism of the Monarchy, based on the scandalous incident, where the bodies of Rudolf and his mistress, Baroness Mary Vetsera were found shot in a Royal hunting lodge, apparently a murder suicide which the Royal family kept from the public for many years.
Edward Norton as Eisenheim is understated and brilliant, as the many sleight of hand tricks in the film were actually done by the gifted actor. Norton must have practiced for months to reveal such confidence and skill needed for these types of trick. However, Norton's character portrayed a perfect man of mystery, begging the question, are these mere illusions or does Eisenheim possess supernatural power, controlling matter, energy, space and time itself.
The special effects in this film are well done. My favourite illusion in the film, (and they're many) is the Excalibur Sword illusion where Eisenheim borrows Rudolf's sword, somehow magnetizes it to the stage standing straight up, asking the various aristocrats' in the audience to release it from its position. Of course none can release the sword, as they, like the Arthur legend, are not meant to be king. When Prince Rudolf attempts to pull the sword from its stationary stance, he finally does so with great effort; by causing the ruthless Prince some embarrassment, Eisenheim is now a targeted enemy of the Crown.
Paul Giamatti as the corrupt Inspector Uhl really shows what a versatile and gifted actor he really is, able to do comedy, tragedy, fantasy...a very impressive performance.
The overall look of the film had the atmosphere as if we are viewing a primary historical source, the director using 80 year old editing techniques etc., this was unusual but effective for such a mixed genre film - fantasy, thriller, supernatural thriller and fairy tale romance.
When first seeing this film I was spellbound and the ending, a perfect twist, making The Illusionist a perfect example of skilful storytelling.
This is an excellent film.
If Only Life Were Like This!
K. Boullosa | 01/07/2008
(4 out of 5 stars)
"I was taken by surprise when I saw this film - I had read Steven Millhauser's short story, on which it is based, but had missed the film when it came out. The film takes the bare bones of the short story and imposes upon them the intense childhood attachment between Eisenham and his aristocratic neighbor, and the ensuing romance touching the core of the Hapsburg dynasty shortly before it and its empire go down to ruin. Neither the childhood romance nor the rivalry with the Hapsburg heir appears in the short story. I am usually outraged when original literary works receive such treatment by Hollywood. However, in this case, I was rewarded with a lovely, romantic jewel of a film that works quite well on its own terms. The script begs one or two narrative questions, but this is one of the rare cases in which these don't matter much, overall. Contrary to the opinion expressed by a reviewer below, in my opinion the film is defined by the sense of hidden strength and longing with which Edward Norton imbues Eisenham. The broken childhood attachment that convinces him to follow his calling as a magician, and the later reunification with his lost love that this choice brings about, make for a very satisfying journey, indeed. It is precisely Eisenham's ability to hide his thoughts, his canny self-control, and his relationship to his magic (which is to say, his broader view of what is possible and what is not), and their ultimate triumph over blunt authority and the social order, that make the film so appealing.
The rest of the cast is very good, as well, particularly Paul Giammati as the police inspector and Rufus Sewell as the unstable and vicious Crown Prince Leopold. Jessica Biel is the weakest leak in this chain as Eisenham's (adult) love: her "Viennese" accent slips the most often, and she is not as charismatic as Norton, but she does well enough and doesn't spoil the movie. The film is set in Vienna in 1910, and the American actors, as well as the British Sewell, were coached to produce a "Viennese" accent, but it isn't, quite, and the result among the Americans is an inconsistent sound that is neither British nor Viennese, and which Biel, in particular, had trouble maintaining. There are a few narrative weakness. One is the Duchess not recognizing Eisenham, the love of her youth, 15 years later as she stares into his eyes on stage - he was already an extraordinary young magician when she first knew him and already possessed of an adult voice. Then there is the little matter of the Duchess's exit, apparently with no questions from the noble family who presumably would have wished to bury her! But these quibbles, somehow, are easily set aside in the somewhat fairy-tale-like atmosphere of the film, which was imaginatively shot in sepia tones that enhanced this. This eerie atmosphere is also greatly enhanced by Philip Glass's delicate, mysterious score. Romantics, rebels, and dreamers everywhere will appreciate the themes of this film as expressed through the relationships among the characters. The magical effects, of course, are enhanced by the wonders of computer technology. One is aware of this while watching, but doesn't care.
A charming and romantic film with a truly unique feel to it, highly recommended."
A gorgeous film!
CoffeeGurl | MA | 04/13/2007
(5 out of 5 stars)
"I have been lucky enough to encounter great films that I probably wouldn't have watched had it not been for Netflix. I watched and fell in love with The Prestige and was curious about a movie that was being compared to it called The Illusionist. Curious, I gave it a whirl. First thing I have to say is that the stories of The Illusionist and The Prestige are nothing alike. Content-wise, they have similar themes and setting (late Victorian, early Edwardian) and then there is the fact that the protagonists of both these films are magicians. There are also some supernatural or magic realism elements in both films as well. However, the similarities end there. This movie centers on Eisenheim (Edward Norton), a famous and fascinating illusionist who is rumored to have supernatural powers and uses them on his magic tricks. He reunites with his childhood friend Sophie, a young duchess who had planned to run away with him when they were teenagers (Jessica Biel). They meet again and sparks fly, but Sophie is engaged to the Crown Prince Leopold (Rufus Sewell), who is corrupt and sadistic and has the power to get rid of anyone who gets in his way. Leopold, suspicious of their mutual affection, uses Inspector Uhl (Paul Giamatti) to find ways to get rid of Eisenheim. Will Eisenheim and Sophie ever be free to be together?
This is such a beautiful film. The setting of Vienna during the turn of the twentieth century is truly breathtaking. And the backdrop of magic and supernatural powers is just as eye catching. This film is a feast for the eyes. I absolutely love the twist at the end and it left me with a smile on my face. This is a unique, suspenseful love story not like any other love story. I have loved Edward Norton since watching him in Fight Club and he is absolutely wonderful here. Biel and Sewell are also great in their roles. Paul Giamatti, however, is a true showstopper here next to Norton. He, like Michael Caine in The Prestige, plays a wonderfully complex character and you want him to be on the good guys' side. The Illusionist has found a place in my DVD collection. This is a must-see and a must-own for sure. I love The Prestige for its dark theme, and I love The Illusionist for its magic and passion. These films are similar and different at the same time, but one thing is for sure: they are both 100% recommended!"