ninth symphony films - movie reviews


DIRECTOR  -  neil burger

RATED  -  pg-13

GENRE  -  fantasy

LENGTH  -  97 minutes

RELEASED  -  18 august 2006

DISTRIBUTOR  -  yari film group

OFFICIAL SITE  -  the illusionist

ESTIMATED BUDGET  -  $40,000,000
the illusionist - a shot from the film


buy the cd from the illusionist at

buy the cd from the illusionist at

in turn-of-the-century vienna, a magician uses his abilities to secure the love of a woman far above his social standing.

For the role, norton trained with british magician james freedman.


picture from the illusionist

picture from the illusionist

picture from the illusionist

picture from the illusionist

picture from the illusionist


two out of four possible stars

While there are moments in The Illusionist where the actors are able to pull you into the story completely, making you forget your surroundings, some rather clunky storytelling techniques might prevent the average viewer from fully immersing himself in the story. The film employs a flashback technique more than once and in neither case (one at the beginning and one at the end) are flashbacks really needed. The film would have had a speedier beginning and a more satisfying ending if the flashbacks had not been used.

And while it might not be readily apparent to every viewer, there's quite a large "mistake" of sorts concerning the flashbacks at the end of the film. Actor Paul Giamatti (who happens to be one of the reasons you might want to see this film) plays Chief Inspector Uhl, charged with investigating and keeping track of Edward Norton's character, "Eisenheim the Illusionist" and during the reveal at the end of the film, Uhl experiences a series of flashbacks. The problem isn't with anyone's performance, but rather the fact that Chief Inspector Uhl "remembers" and "realizes" events in the flashback sequence that he wasn't privy to in real time.

The filmmakers seem to have used Uhl as the character through which to tell the film's ending secret, but in doing so, they used several pieces of story during which Uhl wasn't in the room or scene. Whether you notice this gaffe probably depends on whether the filmmakers have made you forget that you're sitting in a theater (or on a couch), watching a film. But perhaps even more damning to the filmmakers' ability to provide reliable storytelling is that the entire ending sequence, a full couple of minutes worth of flashbacks, are completely unnecessary.

Any general viewer should be well aware of the plot behind Eisenheim the Illusionist's "secrets." There's no reason to do a lengthy reveal at the end concerning the various characters' fates when you can see the ending a mile and a half away. And since the end didn't really need a flashback sequence, the filmmakers could have cut the matching sequence at the beginning (because there's never just one set of flashbacks in a film). The beginning sequence concerns The Illusionist's childhood and his meeting with "Sophie" (Jessica Biel's character), but most of the information given to the audience in the flashback could have been delivered in linear time instead.

Regarding the performances of the film, while no one in the cast will be walking off the stage with an Academy Award, the actors are generally competent in their roles, with a few notable exceptional performances. It is refreshing to see Paul Giamatti take on a role with limited humor since audiences know him so well in deadpan laced comedic roles. He tackles the role of a police inspector with elegance, even allowing for a few moments of brevity in some of the tense situations. Another standout performance belongs to Rufus Sewell, who plays "Crown Prince Leopold" and does a very good job of allowing the audience to sympathize with his usually dastardly character.

In the lead role as "The Illusionist," Edward Norton brings his well-known serious nature to the part and should meet any viewer's expectations regarding his performance abilities. The "illusions" he performs in the film are a combination of computer generated effects and live performance and the computer effects blend well with Norton's in-camera wizardry. As expected, Norton is able to fully don the persona and bearing of his mysterious character and audiences should be fully engaged with the story whenever he's on the screen.

Although she's unable to fully distance herself from her well-known "Seventh Heaven" persona, actress Jessica Biel has moments of true believability in her role, though it's distracting to note that her character is the only one to use British accented English whereas the rest of the cast puts a significant German accent on their English dialogue. She seems too posed at times and less secure in her role as she should be despite a few exchanges where she seems to be able to fully immerse herself in the role.

It's worth mentioning that Biel and others in the cast aren't always so fortunate regarding dialogue. Specifically, the interchanges between Edward Norton and Jessica Biel move far too closely into the predictable. It's not just a matter of knowing what the characters will say; it's knowing exactly how they're going to say it. Norton is able to deal with the lackadaisical dialogue more efficiently than Biel though both their performances suffer somewhat.

Despite the varied performances and weird story structure, the film has vivid cinematography and intricate set decoration that should keep your mind busy when the story fails to twist and the dialogue sags into familiarity. There seems to have been much emphasis placed on the visuals of the film (with good reason, given the magic-themed subject matter) and the overall atmosphere is greatly enhanced by the sets and locations (though it's probable the Czech Republic was used in place of an authentic Vienna location).

Based on a novel, The Illusionist suffers not from the story's inability to be brought to the screen, but from common filmmaking mistakes that divert your attention away from an unfettered and enjoyable viewing of the film. The idea and its characters translate well to the screen, but whenever one of the characters says something that you've heard a thousand times before in a thousand other films, you're jerked out of the story and back into your chair. This idea applies to the story construction as well and with these two noticeable insufficient areas of filmmaking, it's probably a good idea to catch this movie at a matinee showing, unless you're a prior fan of the novel or the actors.

Review by Kelsey Wyatt.

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