The Illusionist

on August 18, 2006 by Francesca Dinglasan
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Lovingly shot with abundant attention paid to the most intricate details, Neil Berger's "The Illusionist" resonates as more spectacle than substance, despite the notable star wattage powering the evidently big-budget feature film.

The always-dependable Edward Norton assumes the role of the titular magician who performs under the name Eisenheim. In turn-of-the-century, class-conscious Vienna, Eisenheim's wildly popular shows bring him face-to-face with his long-lost childhood love, the Duchess Sophie von Teschen (Jessica Biel), when she volunteers to participate in one of his onstage tricks. Forcefully separated during their youth because of differences in social status, the couple instantly and silently recognizes each other. The very grown-up Sophie, however, is now engaged to the volatile and megalomaniacal Crown Prince Leopold (Rufus Sewell), who is immediately suspicious of Eisenheim. Eisenheim's foil, police chief Inspector Uhl (Paul Giamatti), under the command of the prince and himself interested in uncovering the logical explanations behind the performer's complex illusions, begins to shadow Eisenheim. Eisenheim battles back by using the powers of his magic to draw attention to the prince's role in nefarious dealings.

As a period piece, "The Illusionist" is visually impressive, with Berger and his able team of production, art and costume designers working meticulously to bring the Austrian capital circa 1900 to life. Elaborate costuming and cinematographer Dick Pope's emphasis on the gray and brown hues of the setting further underscore the ghostly and enigmatic nature of Eisenheim's artistry. Starring Edward Norton, Paul Giamatti, Jessica Biel and Rufus Sewell. Directed and written by Neil Berger. Produced by Michael London, Brian Koppelman, David Levien, Bob Yari and Cathy Schulman. A Yari release. Drama/Thriller. Rated PG-13 for some sexuality and violence. Running time: 110 min

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