Sreen Magic

The actors and atmosphere in `The Illusionist' memerize with romance, intrigue

Review B


To billions of filmgoers, the essence of "movieness" may be something immediate, simple and viscerally satisfying, like snakes on a plane. But to an equally red-blooded audience with a taste for romantic conspiracy, movieness could be action filled with the white and black magic of political subterfuge and hocus-pocus. A time and place draped in elegant or risky mysteries like turn-of-the-century Vienna. And characters exuding intrigue - from a low-born illusionist named Eisenheim (Edward Norton) and his eye-popping true love, Duchess Sophie von Teschen (Jessica Biel), to his dashing rival for her hand, the ambitious Crown Prince Leopold (Rufus Sewell), and Leopold's baleful-eyed bloodhound, Chief Inspector Uhl (Paul Giamatti).

Writer-director Neil Burger mixes those ingredients with considerable craft and cunning in The Illusionist. This flight of fancy stays aloft on the power of its acting and its atmosphere. The story's one big question mark flattens out into a double explanation point, at least for moviegoers who've seen curlicue suspense classics like The Usual Suspects. But the whirl of wonder, envy and eroticism lingers in the mind.

The Illusionist (Yari Film Group) Starring Edward Norton, Paul Giamatti, Jessica Biel. Directed by Neil Burger. Rated PG-13. Time 110 minutes.

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