There’s no slight of hand here; it’s time for another MYHNSBS!
It’s time for another installment of “Movies You Have Not Have Seen….But You Should”. This week’s feature is the 2006 film The Illusionist. The film features Edward Norton, Jessica Biel and Paul Giamatti.
The Illusionist, loosely based on the short story “Eisenheim the Illusionist”, is set in the late 1800s in the city of Vienna. It tells the story of Eisenheim, a peasant son with a talent and desire to learn magic and illusion. As a teenager he falls in love with Sophie, who also is the Duchess von Teschen. They meet in secret, because of the class difference, until they are torn apart. Years later after travelling the world, Eisenheim (played by Norton) returns to Vienna and performs his illusions that he had spent perfecting. He is reintroduced to Sophie (played by Biel) at one of his performances when she is volunteered by Crown Prince Leopold to participate in one of the illusions. There is intrigue and suspense as their relationship is rekindled in the midst of turmoil and political unrest as the Crown Prince is planning to marry Sophie & also stage a coup to take over the crowns of both Austria & Hungary. Eisenheim must outwit the Crown Prince and overcome many obstacles if he and Sophie are to be together.
Much of the story is told in narrative flashback through the character of Chief Inspector Walter Uhl (played by Giamatti). This is because the film begins in media res (or in the middle of the story). This is a helpful tool in storytelling when you want to immediately want to set up the conflict of the story. One is then able to go back through the use of flashbacks to help fill in the blanks. With a film such as The Illusionist, this works well in helping to tell the story.
The Illusionist came out the same year as another film with similar tones. That film was The Prestige, directed by the great Christopher Nolan. There are some similarities between the two films (magic/illusion, romance, suspense) but there are differences that work for each film. The Prestige had a slightly larger budget ($40 million vs. $17 million) & a more star studded cast (including Christian Bale [who was just coming off of Batman Begins], Hugh Jackman & Scarlet Johansson vs. Norton, Biel & Giamatti). And while The Prestige is a great film in its own right, the same could also be said for The Illusionist. The acting performances all around were well done (including Rufus Sewell, who plays the Crown Prince) and the story has you invested from the beginning until the end.
The Illusionist is available on DVD and Blu-Ray. If you’re in the mood for drama, I’d suggest a great double feature with it along with The Prestige. It’s a great film that entertains as well as makes you think. It’s one you may not have seen, but you should.