Blu-ray Review: The Illusionist (2006)

Now Available to Own

With the release of two high profile love triangle period dramas about daring magicians in exotic locales, 2006 became the year of Hollywood’s obsession with magic. While Christopher Nolan’s brilliantly crafted and inherently darker puzzler The Prestige perhaps appealed to audiences on more of a dazzlingly intellectual level, writer/director Neil Burger’s exquisitely photographed and painterly styled romantic epic was the more richly intoxicating and classically stylized cinematic masterpiece.

Longtime Mike Leigh collaborator and cinematographer Dick Pope received a wholeheartedly deserved Oscar nomination for his amazingly expressionistic visuals, which were heightened by a wonderfully fluid musical composition by the legendary Phillip Glass.

In The Illusionist we encounter 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), whom she describes as “a little too intelligent for his own good.” However, the same can be said for Edward Norton’s Eisenheim who isn’t content to give up true love without a fight – whether it’s through force or illusion.

Norton, who performed many of his own magic tricks, instantly reminds viewers of his innate and commanding onscreen presence we’d been missing for years and Paul Giamatti matches his intensity as the Police Chief Inspector at once both in awe of and intimidated by the wizardry of the magician whose show he’s been hired by the Prince to shut down.

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 in the form of Bob Yari and Cathy Schulman.

And although it was based on fiction, IMDb reveals that the 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.

While Burger’s film is deceptively simple, its uniquely masterful twist ending causes us to reevaluate the events again as witnessed after the film’s halfway point, thereby necessitating repeat viewings to best appreciate everything we’d experienced beforehand.

Lusciously transferred to a sparkling Blu-ray where the golden nostalgic hues—most likely crafted by the use of filters—threaten to overpower the senses as the beauty more than matches the film in terms of its ingenious surprise filled plot, Burger’s old fashioned work that is featured in a Fox DVD plus Blu-ray combo pack, will especially appeal to lovers of vintage period films.

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FTC Disclosure: Per standard professional practice, I received a review copy of this title in order to evaluate it for my readers, which had no impact whatsoever on whether or not it received a favorable or unfavorable critique.