The Illusionist tells the story of a man, Edward (Edward Norton), who, at a young age, becomes interested in magic, and starts developing tricks and illusions. He meets a young woman, and kindles a relationship of sorts, meeting over the years to share magic secrets, planning an escape together. The young woman is a Duchess, Sophie (Jessica Biel), and is of course banned from spending time with the peasant boy. When their secret is uncovered, they are forced apart. He leaves, travelling the world with his magics under the name Eisenheim. When he returns to the city, his ventures draw the attention of the authorities, and a chance encounter with Sophie, now much older, earns him even more troubles.
Clearly the film is highly researched – based on a book that held many of the illusionists tricks, there still must have been months of preparation into the performance. And it pays off. You never once question the authenticity of the tricks, even though, in this modern day, they’re probably more CGI then anything. You’re compelled to find out more; much like Inspector Uhl (Paul Giamatti), the policeman charged with uncovering Eisenheim’s secrets.
Edward Norton’s performance is once again underrated. He has appeared in so many great films, played so many intriguing characters – Fight Club, American History X, The Score. Norton’s continual dedication to his role is apparent across genres. His portrayal of Eisenheim is nothing less than wonderful, his actions compelling. Norton seems to fall into his roles completely; like other great actors (Morgan Freeman for example) he enhances a movie just by being in it. In most instances, the same cannot be said for Jessica Biel, however, in The Illusionist, she plays her part well, and is absolutely stunning in period dress.
I feel The Illusionist is a rather underrated film. It’s not the sort of picture that’s talked about among friends. It wasn’t the sort of flick you had to see in the cinema. But the film is absolutely outstanding. As the story develops, you can’t help but fall for the characters and their stories, especially the love story between Edward and Sophie, and the trouble this creates with the man she is betrothed to. The ending is gripping, a true endeavour into creating something new and exciting – no one will be guessing the ending half way through. You want the heroes to succeed, you want them to find the happy ending, and you’re keen to see the authorities fail. Creating this kind of connection with characters is a hard thing to do, especially so early in the film. The writers here clearly knew what they were doing. Compelling to the final scene, I highly recommend this film to anyone with a keen eye for mystery, and dare you to guess the ending! Four stars.