There’s not very much that can be said about a magician moving debuting in the shadow of The Prestige but the Illusionist came out on top with a small budget and big worldwide receipts. The Illusionist is not a bad movie, but it’s not always clear why not. Edward Norton manages to somehow carry through the role of Eisenheim the Illusionist, though his stage presence isn’t always what it should be. Jessica Biel is miscast but with limited speaking lines, it doesn’t show too badly. Paul Giamatti is fantastic as always but Rufus Sewell as the Crown Prince is every bit the ridiculously over the top monster of a boyfriend that Billy Zane played in Titanic.
Pushing forward the middle 10 minutes of the movie just makes The Illusionist unnecessarily confusing at the beginning, even while the “big secret” of the movie is a secret only to the Chief Inspector and no one in the audience so that we’re really watching for the Chief Inspector to finally get it. The movie’s problem is in part its fixation on royalty, Sophie and the Crown Prince are both shallow characters and Eisenheim is far too confident around them. This may stem from the fact that the original Millhauser story had the royalist plot grafted on to it and ignored the politics and Eiseinheim’s Jewishnesses that were present in the original story.
A reedit might have made The Illusionist a much better movie, it’s one of those productions that all but calls for a director’s cut or a 1.2 version.