"Everything you have seen here has been an illusion"
Neil Burger and Steven Milhauser
My rating: 2/5
"What a disappointment" was what I could be heard shouting all the way home after seeing this movie. The one thing worse than a bad movie is a movie that was well capable of being good but was obviously just too lazy to accomplish quality. The ever-lovely and talented Mr. Norton has a real knack for picking such films and The Illusionist is no exception. The story follows Eisenheim the Illusionist as he tricks and magicks his way to happiness with the love of his life, the Dutchess Sophie, betrothed to the dastardly Prince Leopold.
The simple plot allowed plenty of spce for magnificent conjuring and interesting set-pieces and while I kept repeating to myself that it's unfair to compare it to The Prestige, I found myself awfully disappointed in the fact that Eisenheims "illusions" were too far-fetched to ever believe they were possible. The difference between The Illusionist and The Prestige is that the former made no effort to make the audience believe in Eisenheims skill as a performer. He never claimed magical powers but they never explain how he gets butterflies to carry an audience-member's hankie back to her, or his use of holograms in the 18th century.
Another major problem was the stiff lack of chemistry between the two leads. Edward Norton probably knew his vast superiority to the awfully unconvincing Jessica Biel and they never got past the "polite" stage in their supposedly profound relationship.
On the plus side, the film looks absolutely stunning with oscar-nominated cinematography. Some of the stage performances were nicely designed. A strong performance from Paul Giamatti as the conflicted police inspector is also noteworthy. Unfortunately, Norton's performance never quite rises to the occasion. For a performer with Norton's famed intensity, it is disappointing (there's that word again) to see such a lazy attempt here.
As an extra disappointment, the film has a horribly executed "twist" ending. The only shock in that twist was that I realised I wasn't supposed to realise what was going on. Yet another film that depends on its twist ending but unfortunately treats its audience like idiots.
If you want my advice, forget The Illusionist and watch The Prestige twice instead. And if you're looking for a typically brilliant Edward Norton performance, don't waste your time with this, hold out for his magnificent turn in The Painted Veil instead.