The Illusionist is the second film released in the last few months that deals with magic and illusion. The first, Christopher Nolan's The Prestige was an excellent study of obsession as two rival magicians competed to create the greatest illusion the world has ever seen. Released next month is Neil Buger's The Illusionist. Set in turn of the century Vienna the film is about a mysterious magician known as Eisenheim (Edward Norton) who creates illusions unlike any other. Word of his feats reaches the Crown Prince, who takes his fiancee Sophie (Jessica Biel) to see Eisenheim perform. Eisenheim and Sophie meet and fall in love and Eisenheim uses his abilities to free her from her obligations and subvert the stability of the Royal House of Vienna.
Comparisons between The Prestige and The Illusionist are obviously going to be made. Both films deal with magic, a subject that has been overlooked to some degree in the last while. Both films are period pieces. But, honestly, that's where the similarities end. Having seen The Prestige, I was looking forward to this film and to see what an American production about a similar subject would be like. And to my disappointment, the film is fairly poor. The film is essentially a historical romance, stroke thriller, but there is very little romance in the story and barely any thrills! The illusions are quite obviously CGI, and while this is to be expected for the elaborate tricks, something just seemed very false about the whole film. Edward Norton, who usually delivers excellent performances creates a character that is devoid of charm and charisma. He seems to listlessly drift through the film and his chemistry with Jessica Biel is non-existent. Paul Giamatti, who plays Inspector Uhl, the Crown Prince's chief of police is on fine form, but even he cannot save this boring and languid film. The direction is acceptable, but the screenplay is really the film's weakness. I found myself caring very little for the characters and the film's 'twist' is predictable and trite. Avoid.