Whatever happened to Edward Norton? He's gone European on us. Last week I saw a sneak preview of The Illusionist, which opens in limited release this Friday. And the bar is now set for the other magician-themed film this year, Christopher Nolan's The Prestige.
The film is a gorgeously filmed tale of Eisenheim (Norton), an illusionist who dazzles Vienna audiences with his ability to simulate creation in his creations. His fan/Javert is Chief Inspector Uhl (Paul Giamatti), a fellow commoner who warns Eisenheim about the dangers of dealing with Crown Prince Leopold (Rufus Sewell) and his intended bride Sophie (Jessica Biel).
For a story that is thin on character development -- Eisenheim is clever, Uhl honorable, Leopold evil, and Sophie pure -- it's terrifically told. And I can't say enough about how fantastic it looks. The film is a perfect combination of filming technologies both old (Lumiere-era cameras, or a reasonable facsimile) and new (CGI, subtle and done right). Writer/director Neil Burger makes the film look exactly as it should: like magic.
The ending will seem very familiar because it's almost an exact replica of the famous ending to another mystery-type film. I found this somewhat distracting, but ultimately accepted it as necessary for a more crowd-pleasing resolution. I can't say more without revealing my tricks.