The Illusionist

Year: 2007
Production Co: Bull's Eye Entertainment
Director: Neil Burger
Producer: Brian Koppelman/Cathy Schulman/Bob Yari
Writer: Neil Burger
Cast: Edward Norton, Paul Giamatti, Jessica Biel, Rufus Sewell
2006 was another year when everything came in twos. Every now and then two very similar movies at competing studios go into production and panic ensues, claim and counter-claim about which was greenlit first and which was the better novel they were based on flooding the media when the suits know very well the winner is simply the first one out of the starter gates.

It's left up to the loser (Armageddon after Deep Impact, Infamous after Capote and now this film after The Prestige) to explain itself and convince people it has something different to offer.

So as the second period piece about a stage magician in only a few months, The Illusionist was an uphill battle. While it's not a battle of wits between two magicians, it is one between a magician (Norton) and his nemesis, a police chief (Giamatti) in the pocket of the corrupt Austrian Prince (Sewell) who wants to bring him down.

When his teenage lover (Biel) re-enters his life, now betrothed to the evil prince determined to claim the throne, gifted illusionist Eisenstein has to pull off the greatest trick ever to spirit her away so they can be together. With the plods on his tail and the Prince determined to shut Eisenheim down after showing him up for a fool in a private performance, he turns despondent, working out of a low-rent theatre in a no frill performance where he strides onto the stage and calls up a ghostly figure, then slinks off.

It's muted and low key, as potentially silly as The Prestige was but handles the premise well. There's not as much urgency and danger as there was in Christopher Nolan's superior bigger cousin, but neither Norton nor Giamatti could act badly if they tried.

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