The Illusionist

Director: Neil Burger

2006 was the year of Hollywood’s obsession with magic with the release of two high profile love triangle period dramas about daring magicians in exotic locales. While Christopher Nolan’s brilliantly crafted puzzler The Prestige appealed to audiences on more of a dazzling and intellectual level, Neil Bruger’s exquisitely photographed and painterly styled romantic epic was the more intoxicating and classical cinematic masterpiece. Cinematographer Dick Pope received a richly deserved Oscar nomination for his amazingly expressionistic visuals heightened by a wonderful musical composition by the legendary Phillip Glass. In The Illusionist we meet a magician named Eisenheim (Edward Norton) who reunites with his childhood love, the Duchess Sophie (Jessica Biel), in turn of century Vienna, only to learn that she is engaged to the vicious Crown Prince Leopold (Rufus Sewell). Edward Norton, who did many of his own magic tricks, reminded viewers instantly of his innate and commanding onscreen presence and Paul Giamatti matches his intensity as the chief inspector at once in awe of the magician’s wizardry but hired by the Prince to shut down Eisenheim’s show. Based on Steven Millhauser’s short story and written and directed by Neil Burger, The Illusionist had the added benefit of being produced by the same team that brought us Sideways and Crash. While Burger’s film is deceptively simple, its unique and surprising twist ending causes us to reevaluate the events again as witnessed after the film’s halfway point. Although it was based on fiction, according to the IMDB, The Illusionist did find some real inspiration based on both the controversial life of Austrian Crown Prince Rudolf (the only son of Emperor Franz Joseph) as well as the legendary magician and purported clairvoyant Erik Jan Hanussen who was murdered by Nazis in 1933 and served as a motivation for the character of Eisenheim. Overall, Burger’s luscious film is gorgeous, old fashioned and will especially appeal to lovers of old films.