The Illusionist (2006) [Blu-ray]
|Genre(s): Drama / Mystery / Romance / Thriller|
|Fox || PG13 - 109 minutes - $24.99 || June 8, 2010|
|Reviewer: Brian Oliver || Posted On: 2010-06-15|
Writer(s): Steven Millhauser (short story); Neil Burger (screenplay)
Cast: Edward Norton, Paul Giamatti, Jessica Biel, Rufus Sewell
Theatrical Release Date: September 1, 2006
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Plot: Set in the early 1900s Vienna, the film centers on illusionist extraordinaire Eisenheim (Edward Norton), who falls for an aristocrat (Jessica Biel) well above his social standing. When she becomes engaged to Crown Prince Leopold (Rufus Sewell), the master magician employs his powers to win her love. His daring scheme creates tumult within the monarchy and ignites the suspicion of Chief Inspector Uhl (Paul Giamatti).
“Perhaps there’s truth in this illusion.”
I won’t go into detail about the plot outside of the above synopsis, but I will say although it doesn’t rise to the twist of The Sixth Sense (what can?) but The Illusionist is one of the best movies of 2006.
Writer/director Neil Berger sets up great atmosphere from the beginning showing Eisenheim in a packed theater, sitting on a chair, channeling something. Berger utilizes a golden glow in each scene mixed with rich and beautiful sets and great performances from Norton, Giamatti and Sewell (not to say Biel wasn’t good, but her role was smaller). Early on, Berger uses a hand-cranked (like) style for Eisenheim’s childhood days, giving it an interesting flair that fits right in with the rest of the movie. Some might find it overly stylized but I feel it fits in with the story and gives it an extra depth that helps the audience along to the conclusion.
As a sophomore effort, Berger is off to an impressive start to his career and it’ll be interesting to see where he goes next. He may not have the finesse or refinement of young directors like Christopher Nolan, however I am intrigued to see what he’ll do next.
Edward Norton has often been called a chameleon and after 10 years, Norton has proven to be one of the best actors of this generation; the new Robert De Niro or Al Pacino if you will. Norton consistently gives amazing performances even in some of his less artsy films like The Score or The Italian Job. Here, he gives an unassuming performance, one that really isn’t memorable per se, but still one that is better than anything 90% of the acting community could do. Eisenheim isn’t all that well fleshed out as a character, but because of its Norton, he pulls in the audience just as a real audience for the time would watching the magic.
In their supporting roles, Paul Giamatti (in a role different what he’s done of late), Jessica Biel and Rufus Sewell (despite being typecast as a raving, violent villain), all feed on Norton’s charisma and they equally pull their weight in roles that, again, aren’t as three-dimensional as I like from stories. Nevertheless, given the story, the illusion or magic of this script, all is forgivable for the final payoff.
If there’s one flaw, it’s a minor one with the score. Veteran composer Philip Glass’s musical cues are fine and work with the story, but from opening credits to the end, I had the feeling I’ve heard before. Nothing about it is original nor that great. That said, this is a minor gripe from someone who enjoys (and buys) scores.
The Illusionist isn’t one of those great movies on par with The Godfather or even Lost in Translation (in my book), but it still has that finale that makes it all worthwhile. It doesn’t stand alongside Sixth Sense (and probably won’t carry that kind of cultural weight), yet I can’t help to have fallen in love with this movie.
The only thing this Blu-ray includes is the original DVD which does have features (a commentary and 2 featurettes), but the Blu-ray itself has nothing and in fact, does not even have a chapter selection menu since the movie starts automatically and the only thing the pop-up menu offers is an audio selection.
.::AUDIO & VIDEO::.
I’m not sure how to approach this transfer mainly because the director’s style choice doesn’t necessarily make for a great looking HD transfer. What I can say is the 1.78 aspect ratio transfer doesn’t look too bad in 1080p high-definition as the detail levels on the faces are sharp enough while the washed out colors are no doubt right in line with the director’s intentions. I didn’t notice any sort of flaws like dust and/or scratches and the black levels, for which there are plenty of dark scenes even during the daylight, are also good.
The 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track while unexceptional, does its job well enough to my ears. The movie doesn’t have a whole lot of action and is propelled more by Philip Glass’ score than anything else. Dialogue levels, though, sound fairly clear while ambient noises make use of the back channels.
For me, The Illusionist is a better film than The Prestige if only very slightly, but because both films came out the same year, it has been in many ways overshadowed. The Blu-ray, which I’ve been told was originally mastered a few years ago, features solid audio and video but is absolutely featureless and doesn’t even have something simple like a chapter selection menu. If you can find this for $10 or less, then it’s worth it.