DVD Review: The Illusionist
Release Date: January 9, 2007
Distributor: 20th Century Fox
· Neil Burger
· Edward Norton
· Paul Giamatti
· Jessica Biel
· Rufus Sewell
· IMDb: The Illusionist
by R.J. Carter
Published: January 6, 2007
Based on a short story by Steven Millhauser, "The Illusionist" is a "Romeo and Juliet" tale of a love that oversteps the boundaries of the classes. As youths, Edward and Sophie meet while Edward is practicing magic in the streets. She's charmed by the young man, and they begin meeting clandestinely. He even gives her a special locket that can only be opened a special way. But their relationship is eventually found out, and Edward is sent away with a stern warning never to see Sophie again. So he goes away. Far away. And for a very long time.
Years later, Edward returns. Although now he calls himself Eisenheim (Edward Norton, "Kingdom of Heaven"), and he's a professional stage magician. His prowess soon reaches the ears of Crown Prince Leopold (Rufus Sewell, "Tristan & Isolde"), who attends one of the shows, with his betrothed, Countess Sophie (Jessica Biel, "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre"), in tow. When Leopold volunteers Sophie for one of the illusions, the spark of recognition sets in on both the separated lovers, and they secretly meet later.
It is these meetings that attract the attention of Chief Inspector Uhl (Paul Giamatti, "Lady in the Water"), who acts as sort of a secret service agent for Leopold. Uhl has been promised the Chief of Police position when Leopold's emperor father resigns the throne (and Leopold is secretly forming plans to force that to happen.) Uhl is also something of a magic fan, and he struggles to comprehend some of the tricks that Eisenheim is pulling off, putting his intellect to work to see beyond the illusions.
Do You Know Me? During a performance for Prince Leopold,
Eisenheim is unexpectedly reunited with his childhood romance,
Sophie. (L-R: Edward Norton, Jessica Biel)
When it becomes evident that Eisenheim and Sophie plan to run off together, Leopold becomes enraged. Sophie tells him she is leaving him, and, drunken, he chases after her into the stables. Soon after, her bleeding body is found lying in a stream.
Eisenheim is forced to end his show. But he buys a theater of his own, and begins a performance of a distinctly different kind: he begins calling forth spirits from beyond, that visually appear to the audience and speak to them. This builds him an entirely different kind of following with the many spiritualists who live in the city. But when he causes the deceased Sophie to apparate, the audience is incensed. They know the Prince -- who has a reputation for being a woman beater -- killed her. But the returned Sophie cannot answer any questions before disappearing once more into the mists, leaving a tear-filled Eisenheim on stage.
The Prince orders Uhl to arrest Eisenheim for fraud, for charging people to bring back the dead. But Eisenheim has never claimed that this is what he was doing. From the balcony of the police department, he declares to the throng in the street that what he does is all an illusion -- a trick -- And thus the police have to let him go. It all builds up to a climactic confrontation with a Leopold whose confidence is leaving him and an Inspector Uhl who has begun to question his loyalties. But when all is said and done, how much of what has transpired has been illusion, and how much has been real? The ending comes together like the pieces of a Swiss watch, and the audience gets to experience a satisfying "a-ha" moment.
The bonus features on this release are minimal. The audio commentary track with Director Neil Burger is somewhat illuminating (as much as a monologue track can be; myself, I find conversational tracks to be more enlightening), but the other two features are next to useless and downright useless. "The Making of 'The Illusionist'" has very little "making of" in it, being instead approximately four minutes of the stars describing their characters. "Jessica Biel on 'The Illusionist'" is about 90 seconds of Jessica Biel talking about her part, all of which was excerpted from the previous featurette (so if you just want to hear Biel's side of things without that other pesky two-and-a-half minutes getting in the way, I suppose this one is for you.)
An absolutely charming period piece that will fascinate both for the romantics and the intellectuals, "The Illusionist" is well worth picking up for the feature presentation alone. However, someone definitely skimped on the special features; one would have thought that an explanation of the magic tricks performed would have made for at least a decent and attractive ten minute documentary, if not at least a mini biography on Millhauser and his short story.
Audio is available in English 5.1 Dolby Surround only, with optional subtitles in English and Spanish.
Previews on this disc include "Gray Matters", "Winter Passing", and "Find Me Guilty".