Our friends Rosy & Caroline came up on Friday night to hang out and stay over, and we ended up going to see The Illusionist yesterday afternoon. It stars Ed Norton (yum…even with 80′s David Copperfield hair) and Paul Giamatti, who both turned in terrific performances. (Giamatti could act his way out of a paper bag, using only his eyebrows.) Even little Jessica Biel — of 7th Heaven fame (and Stealth infamy) — rose to the occasion, and Rufus Sewell is about as good an evil prince as you can find. (I think it may actually be impossible for him to play a good guy. His hooded eyes bespeak your doom.)
Norton plays Eisenheim the Illusionist, newly arrived in turn-of-the-century, Enlightenment-gripped Vienna to wow wonder-starved audiences with his prestidigitation. Giamatti is Inspector Uhl, an ambitious yet likeable policeman who reports directly to Prince Leopold (Sewell), and is caught up in the Prince’s political schemes. Eisenheim and Leopold love the same woman (Biel), which is a problem.
The charm of this film is that it takes its time. There is silence much of the time (though the score by Philip Glass is absolutely lovely), and when people speak, they often talk quietly, measuring out exactly what it is they want to say. The movie’s a bit slow, to be quite honest, but it works in the story’s favor. There’s no “TA-DAAAH!” lurking around every corner, because the reveal isn’t the point. Even the CG used for the “magic” isn’t stellar, but again…not the point.
The point is the move-countermove dance of the characters, navigating a world where science has trumped mystery, but not quite stamped out the desire to believe in the mysterious. The film doesn’t knock you back in your seat, but instead seduces you, inviting you to be part of Eisenheim’s audience, wondering if your eyes deceive you (and kinda hoping they do).