Saturday, January 9, 2016


I watched THE ILLUSIONIST (2006) for the second time yesterday. I remember seeing this film several years ago but I didn't remember the particulars of the story. Good thing too as that allowed me to be once again taken by surprise by the ending.

Set in Vienna, Austria in 1889, THE ILLUSIONIST is rich with period detail, costumes and old world locations. The cinematography by Dick Pope is impressive as is the score by Philip Glass. Writer/director Neil Burger does a very good job of making us look in one direction while what's really going on is happening over here.

Edward Norton stars as Eisenheim the Illusionist, the premier stage magician of the age. With his brooding, dark good looks and goatee, Norton would have made a better Stephen Strange than Bruce Banner. His act catches the attention of Chief Inspector Walter Uhl (Paul Giamatti gives a very mannered performance in which he seems to be channeling the spirit of a young Orson Welles, and that's not a bad thing). Uhl can't quite put his finger on it but he suspects that Eisenheim may be up to no good.

Also caught in the young magician's spell (sorry), is Duchess Sophie von Teschen (Jessica Biel). Sophie and Eisenheim were childhood friends and even though she's now betrothed to Crown Prince Leopold (Rufus Sewell), her heart still belongs to Eisenheim.

To say much more would spoil the surprises in store here. Suffice it to say, THE ILLUSIONIST is a grand magic trick of a movie with a satisfying "a-ha!" moment at the end of the film.

The whole affair reminded me of this book:

I read  CARTER BEATS THE DEVIL, Glen David Gold's debut novel, when it originally came out way back in 2001. It ranks second behind Michael Chabon's Pulitzer Prize winning masterpiece THE AMAZING ADVENTURES OF KAVALIER AND CLAY (2000) on my list of all time favorite novels. CARTER is another terrific tale of a young stage magician, this one performing in San Francisco in the 1920s. There's an awful lot of wonderful story in this incredible book but when you get to the end of the book (and you'll wish it would go on longer), you'll be amazed at how deftly Gold has managed to fool you.

THE ILLUSIONIST is a good film, one well worth seeing but if you really want to experience a first rate performance of literary legerdemain, read CARTER BEATS THE DEVIL. It's pure magic.

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