first_imgIt looks mighty classy and seems to take itself seriously. But there’s really not much to “The Illusionist” once you get past all that sleight of hand. Set near the turn of the last century in imperial Vienna (and using that old movie magic trick of actually filming in Prague), it’s a story of love and politics and all that stuff people who are sick of brainless summer movies would regard as serious. But it’s really just, well, an illusion of real drama, a wizard’s distraction-laden entertainment. And not one that makes a whole lot of sense when you get to the end. If you enjoy movies about elaborate hoaxes both of the seemingly supernatural and cunningly schemed kind you may get enough enjoyment out of “The Illusionist” to ride contentedly past its giant plot holes. But I advise you not to be fooled; characters in the movie aren’t the only ones getting something pulled on them. AD Quality Auto 360p 720p 1080p Top articles1/5READ MOREFrumpy Middle-aged Mom: My realistic 2020 New Year’s resolutions. Some involve doughnuts. Adapted and directed by TV commercials ace Neil Burger from Pulitzer winner Steven Millhauser’s short story “Eisenheim the Illusionist,” the movie stars Edward Norton as the title prestidigitator. Vienna’s most popular stage magician, the performer employs such newfangled technology as cinema and electromagnetism to pull off such crowd-astounding feats as bringing spirits back from the dead. But the movie also suggests that he has otherworldly powers as well. I can’t say that this question is was ever satisfactorily resolved, and while some may feel that that isn’t important, the whole nature of the story’s climactic gotcha hinges on just how some major impossibilities were engineered. Anyway, Eisenheim’s popularity draws the attention of the careerist police inspector Uhl (Paul Giamatti, the only actor who seems at all comfortable speaking with a Middle European accent). The tottering Austro-Hungarian Empire worries about anybody who captures its subjects’ imaginations. The wicked Crown Prince Leopold (Rufus Sewell, in perpetual glare) has something else to fear from Eisenheim: When the great magician was just a peasant lad with a different name, he dallied with the lovely young aristocrat Sophie von Teschen, who now that she’s grown into Jessica Biel has become the future emperor’s intended bride. Eisenheim and Sophie, of course, reignite. Leopold, unimaginatively, goes ballistic. Terrible things happen, and the good cop Uhl must do all in his power to take down Eisenheim if he wants to save his job. This ain’t exactly “Chinatown”-level corruption-and-deception business (Burger came up with the Prince and Sophie characters, as well as the rote intrigues that their presence creates). Some Kafkaesque paranoia is attempted, but Burger can’t stage the machinations of Uhl’s secret police suspensefully enough to get much intensity cooking on that front. In fact, many of the film’s scenes are staged at a deliberate pace that some may find mesmerizing, but will probably have the related yet opposite effect of narcotizing others. Some of Eisenheim’s spookier presentations are quite chilling, though. Norton’s trademark intensity works well in these scenes, but too many others play with all the liveliness of a wax museum tableau. You can’t beat the locations. Though Prague has to be framed fairly tight in order to convince us that it’s the splendid, 19th-century capital, there’s enough gorgeous architecture and cobblestone verisimilitude to convince us that we’re back in the final days of Hapsburg opulence. Speaking of which, the real coup, setting-wise, is Leopold’s castle, portrayed by the actual hunting lodge of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, whose assassination sparked World War I and the end of all of this. The place is luscious and creepy beyond belief, with a hallway festooned with so many animal trophy heads it looks like a ghostly, time-frozen forest primeval. Strange that the weirdest, coolest thing about “The Illusionist” should be a real place you can visit.165Let’s talk business.Catch up on the business news closest to you with our daily newsletter. Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set!last_img

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