With the help of a mysterious pill that enables the user to access 100 percent of his brain abilities, a struggling writer becomes a financial wizard, but it also puts him in a new world with lots of dangers.
Nicholas Van Orton is a very wealthy San Francisco banker, but he is an absolute loner, even spending his birthday alone. In the year of his 48th birthday (the age his father committed ... See full summary »
Deborah Kara Unger,
In late nineteenth century Vienna, renowned illusionist Eisenheim is reunited with the Duchess von Teschen when she is volunteered from the audience to participate in an illusion during one of his performances. Despite having not seen each other in fifteen years when they were teenagers, they almost immediately recognize each other as Eduard Abramovich and Sophie von Teschen, they who had a doomed romance at that time due to their class differences. The Duchess is soon to be wed to the Crown Prince Leopold in what would be for him a marriage solely in pursuit of power: overthrowing his father, the Emperor Leopold, as well as overtaking the Hungarian side of the empire. The Crown Prince is known to use violence against women if it suits his needs or purposes. As such, the Duchess, who realizes that she still loves Eisenheim and he her, can never leave the Crown Prince without it jeopardizing her life. After Eisenheim humiliates the Crown Prince at a private show which results in an ... Written by
During the scene where Eisenheim is performing at the Hofburg, he places the Crown Prince's sword upright on the stage. The first officer who attempts to lift it is unable. The second person to try - to whom the Crown Prince says "Not so eager, cousin" - is also unable. That second person was probably meant to be Karl von Habsburg-Lothringen, who succeeded "Crown Prince Leopold's" father, Franz Josef, as Emperor in 1916. See more »
When giving a private exhibition to the Crown Prince and assembled nobles, Eisenheim explains the legend of King Arthur and the Sword in the Stone, referring to the sword as Excalibur. Though popular culture does commonly refer to the sword as such, Excalibur was actually a different sword, given to Arthur by the Lady of the Lake after the sword he pulled from the stone was broken. This is one version - Arthurian legend is hardly 100% factual history, and many incarnations of Arthur indeed conflate the two swords - Excalbur and Claret. See more »
woman in audience:
It's her. I know it's her! She wants to tell us something.
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"The Illusionist" is a unique film that combines two often stale genres into something fresh: the lush romantic period piece and the "AHA!" mystery thriller (a genre M. Night Shamalyan has single-handedly run into the ground recently). Helmed by a first time director (Neil Burger), based on a short story, and featuring an eclectic cast, "The Illusionist" had the perfect set-up to be a monumental disaster. With a graceful slight-of-hand, it ends up being something very good.
As with any run-of-the-mill period piece, there's a lavish attention to the set designs and costumes, here representing late nineteenth century Vienna. Director Burger puts a nice spin on the same-old, same-old with an acute attention to lighting (especially in the dreamily over-exposed flashbacks) and old fashioned camera techniques (witness the circular camera's eye closing to transition from scenes) to give the film the feel of being a fond memory of a classic movie from a bygone era.
The central romance where Edward Norton's title character and Jessica Biel's Dutchess are star-crossed lovers kept apart because of class and society, had all the makings of a snore-inducing cheese-athon. Executed in an understated manner that services the greater plot, it ends up being anything but. Norton's performance, especially in the second half of the film when he turns into a man of very few words, had the potential to be one-note. As an actor, he speaks volumes with his eyes. Biel, a former teen idol and TV star, seemed a horrific choice for this role. She pulls of the nifty trick of being quite good. Even better are Rufus Sewell as the tyrannical crown-prince and Paul Giamatti as the chief inspector. Using a short story as the source material, characterizations had the potential to be paper-thin, but these seasoned veterans make the most of their lines and scenes adding terror, humor, and gravitas through their vocal and physical deliveries where lesser actors would've been wooden and cold. The entire cast also worked together very well utilizing their odd, vaguely European and aristorcatic accent. Everyone used it so consistently and earnestly, it didn't seem to matter after awhile that the accent was unnecessary.
A more over-eager or pretentious director may have completely sabotaged the fantastic ending to "The Illusionist" and cheated the audience. Handled deftly by Burger, the grande finale where "all is revealed" is a wholly organic and satisfying conclusion that rewards the patient viewer and fulfills the lofty promises of the themes presented throughout the work.
"The Illusionist" boasts an excellent music score from minimalist composer Phillip Glass that easily rivals his great work done in "Candyman" and "The Hours." Norton and Giamatti treat us to some of the best "staring" since the days of silent films. The look on Giamatti's face and the positioning of his raised eyebrows as he watches Norton perform his illusions coupled with Norton's eyes as he pulls off his tricks are priceless.
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