Now you see it, now you don’t: 2. The Illusionist

Ladies and gentlemen, thanks for coming to this site to read my review. Are you sitting comfortably? Then let us begin with my analysis…

Without wanting to draw lots of parallels between movies, it’s damn hard when two similar movies are released at approximately the same time. Case in point: The Prestige vs. The Illusionist. I’ve already told you my views of The Prestige last week, so now it’s high time I gave you my verdict of The Illusionist.

If you don’t like long anxious waits to reach a conclusion, let me just tell you that a) you’d better not go and see movies about illusions and magic and b) I was more drawn to The Prestige, which I found beat The Illusionist on most points, except possibly the most important one: the plot twist.

The Illusionist is based on a short story, “Eisenheim the illusionist”.
The story tells us the tale of an young illusionist, who has a fond spot for a young aristocrat (and she for him). They don’t see each other for a couple of years, but then meet again during a performance, where she is seated next to her fiance, the crown prince.
The crown prince is jealous and has an inspector investigate whether the illusions are fraud or supernatural, anything to get the illusionist banned.

Edward Norton is Eisenheim the illusionist, Jessica Biel the aristocratic lady (but we’re allowed to call her Sophie), Rufus Sewell is the crown prince and Paul Giamatti is the inspector.
The director of The Illusionist is one Neil Burger. I hadn’t heard of this man and apparently he’s only directed one other movie, Interview with the Assassin (2002).

posterMy first impression of The Illusionist was rather poor: I found the score by Philip Glass quite irritatingly posh,the credits were written in a font that showed us “look people, we’re doing a period piece here” and if you were still too stupid to spot this, the colours have been retouched to show us we’re watching a thing of the past.
Now I don’t mind this sort of cheap technique when there’s a flashback in a movie, but surely not an entire film?! How condescending can a movie get?

What is worse – and here we’ll draw another parallel to The Prestige – is the way the actors speak. I don’t know about you, but I have always hated it when actors use a fake accent to show us their character’s natural language isn’t English. This is okay the way David Bowie did it in The Prestige: Bowie played Tesla, a foreign inventor who was conversing in English and therefore had an accent when speaking.
In The Illusionist however, the characters speak ‘German’, which means they’re speaking English with a few hints of a German accent (the way an Austrian would speak English, but not when Austrians have to speak German) and – because the audience is really considered moronic – we add words like ‘Herr’ or ‘bitte’ to prove the couleur locale.
Why can’t actors just converse either in the actual language or just say the words in English? Do they think we’re so stupid we’d imagine English is the native language in Austria? Apparently yes.

Another bone I have to pick with this film is that some of the illusions are shown as supernatural stuff. Now, whereas this becomes a plot element in the second part of the film (and so I didn’t have a problem with it there), in the first scenes of the movie Eisenheim is but a regular illusionist, which makes it even worse that some effects look clearly made with digital effects.
For a movie about illusions, you can wonder how much more a movie can shoot itself in the foot?

If you can ignore the bad effects, the annoying score, the condescending tone and the okay but not exceptional performances with irritating fake accents, can the movie still deliver?
Well, as said in the review of The Prestige, a lot depends on the grand finale and the build-up. This story definitely has more bone and so the script is more layered and the twists more interesting.
Sadly, that is one of the only good things I could say about this film.

The Prestige had its problems, but overall the movie had more prestige and better ideas. The Illusionist looks like a failed opportunity and it’s a movie that should be kept as far from arms as possible: because, if you let it, it’ll surely shoot itself in the foot time and again. And sadly, as you can tell from the blood stains on the carpet, that is not an illusion.



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