Friday, August 11, 2006


Filmmaker Neil Burger makes them like they used to: ‘The Illusionist’

Re-watched “The Illusionist” last night, my reunion with the film since catching it at the 2006 Sundance Film Festival more than six months ago. I must confess that I had to exit the film early at Sundance due to the typical whirlwind, festival schedule. Finally, viewed in its entirety, writer/director Neil Burger’s period romance is lovelier than ever. I can’t think of another recent film that recreates classic movie making technique as beautifully as “The Illusionist.”
Set in 1900 Vienna, Edward Norton plays Eisenheim, a popular magician who butts head with Austria’s Crown Prince (Rufus Sewell). Jessica Biel plays the prince’s fiancée, who also happens to be the love of Eisenheim’s life. Paul Giamatti is at his bumbling best as the Chief Inspector who watches Eisenheim’s every move.
But praise for “The Illusionist” begins with Burger, who cut his feature filmmaking teeth on the enjoyable faux documentary “Interview with the Assassin.” Every remarkable scene, from moments of stage magic to a passionate, secretive kiss, looks as if they were touched by the hands of German expressionist FW Murnau, Frenchman Georges Melies and every other pioneer filmmaker Burge honors. Newfound distributor The Yari Group plans to release “The Illusionist” at summer’s end; so there’s plenty of time to comment further on this welcome alternative to Hollywood’s summertime offerings.

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