If he were really any good, he’d make that red cloak disappear!

Theatrical Release Date: 08/18/2006
Director: Neil Burger
Cast: Edward Norton, Jessica Biel, Rufus Sewell, Paul Giamatti

Abracadabra! Alakazam! Presto Chango!

Am I an idiot? Sure. But when else can I really use those words in a review and be somewhat near the point?

My inanity aside, projecting its way onto screens nationwide has been writer/director Neil Burger’s “The Illusionist”.

Based on a short story by Steven Millhauser, the film centers on an Illusionist (no, really?) who is in love with the betrothed of the heir to the Austrian throne. Predictably, Princey don’t want no competition, you dig?

Sorry, my mind drifted into jive-speak. (Note to self, don’t write reviews while watching “Airplane”).

Okay, now to portray the Illusionist, Burger enlisted one of the best actors around right now, Edward Norton. His intensity is amazing and considering his character spends a good deal of his time on screen conjuring things like he’s hailing a cab, you need an actor who can captivate an audience, a la Mr. Norton.

His performance is predictably great and it is his interplay with the Chief Inspector (fellow Oscar nominee Paul Giamatti) that provides the most notable exchanges.

Speaking of Giamatti, I was a little worried his theatricality would bring his character over the top. I am a fan of his work but usually he plays characters that have a lot more mannerisms and affectations. The role of the Chief Inspector is a fairly straightforward one and he proved me wrong and was suitably restrained for the most part and did an excellent job.

Moving past Giamatti and Norton, we come to the two actors who could have unraveled everything in the film – Jessica Biel and Rufus Sewell.

Sewell has provided good performances in films like “Dark City” but he’s also been in such critically acclaimed bonanzas as “Extreme Ops”. While his performance as a power hungry Prince is cliché, his performance seemed sincere and I thought he was a good choice.

Then there is the lovely Ms. Biel. I am a avid supporter of her appearance in swimsuits and less but I would not be the first person to sign a petition stating she is one of the up and coming talents of her generation.

Is there some “Seventh Heaven” bias? Sure. But aside from a nice performance in the indie drama “The Rules of Attraction”, I tend to associate her more with crapfests like “Summer Catch” and “Stealth”.

However, I am going to give her a positive review in this case. While her character really didn’t have too much to do, she did have to hold an accent and to not look completely lost against an actor as good as Norton. Maybe it has something to do with her finally working with more talented people but I thought she did an admirable job.

Still, don’t start etching her name on that golden statue quite yet.

As for the film overall, Burger’s extrapolation of an entire feature length film from a short story went about as well as it could have I suppose. When you get right down to it, there really isn’t a lot of ground for the film to cover.

It’s very predictable and most savvy moviegoers will spot the ending about halfway through the film.

That doesn’t make it any less enjoyable. The “magic” that Norton performs is presented nicely. The setting was beautiful, although they didn’t shoot in Vienna but instead used mostly Prague and the surrounding areas. And the score is beautifully done by Philip Glass.

I might have liked for the film to move with a little more enthusiasm but considering I had been at work since eight in the morning, caught a little cat nap, watched another movie and then this one at half past nine in the evening, I think some of my problems with the pacing may have been due to other factors.

I’m going to hand out a 3 out of 5 to “The Illusionist”. While some reviews have been clamoring for some award attention, I think this film falls short of that. It’s still an enjoyable movie to take in and better than most of the schlock that Hollywood usually feasts on us at the end of the summer.