ILLUSIONIST (Neil Burger)
a short take by Tony McRae
A magician named Eisenheim (Edward Norton) has taken the city by
storm. This man is
unbelievable, to the point that audiences can’t be sure if his illusions
are stunning tricks or supernatural events.
We—21st century moviegoers—wonder the same thing.
good, in fact, that Crown Prince Leopold (Rufus Sewell), accompanied by
his fiancée, the aristocrat Sophie (Jessica Biel), attends one of
Eisenheim’s performances. It
turns out that Sophie and Eisenheim were childhood friends, close friends,
though he is a commoner, she an aristocrat.
Needless to say, the Prince and the magician soon are on a
collision course with the beautiful Sophie caught in the middle.
enlists Chief Inspector Uhl (Paul Giamatti) to get the dirt on Eisenheim
and take him down. That’s
the plot. A villainous Prince,
a commoner magician both wanting the same woman.
Sound corny but it works beautifully.
reasons for this, aside from the wonderfully atmospheric recreation of
and Philip Glass’s eerie score, are the performances, especially those
of Edward Norton and Paul Giamatti. Their
scenes together crackle with wit and subtleties.
Both are Oscar-worthy, especially Giamatti’s.
There’s a scene in the film’s last sequence in which Chief
Inspector Uhl has arrived at the railway station.
Here he begins to piece the story of Eisenheim and Sophia together,
to work out all the improbabilities, all the twists that only a master
illusionist is capable of. It’s
a tour de force of acting, because Giamatti doesn’t say one word.
recently compared Paul Giamatti to the great actor Claude Rains—you
know, the French policeman in “
.” This is right on.
Rains, who in my opinion had the most beautiful male voice in the
movies, was primarily a character actor, but he did occasional leading man
roles. Giamatti is now in that
same precarious situation. He’s
not leading-man handsome, but his enormous talent should overcome this.
We can only hope.
Don’t wait for the DVD. You
should see this on the big screen.
I might add
that the AP review that appeared in Friday’s
Forum was clearly about a different movie.
The AP reviewer saw emotionless characters; I saw a lush and
for some sexuality and mild violence.