The Illusionist is based on a short story. Itís the story of a magician in turn of the century Vienna who loves the same woman as the crown prince and therefore must pull off the master disappearing act to be with her.
While not an exceedingly original story itís a solid one. However itís also a short one. As I said, it is based on a short story and not a novel. This one is short enough that there really isnít enough material for a full length feature. The weakness of The Illusionist is that for much of the picture, it feels like the film makers are stretching.
The Illusionist is shot in a style that mimics the films of the era. Everything is almost sepia and darker around the edges. The scene changes are done with a charming circle collapsing around the action and then growing out again to reveal the next scene. This creates an air of the era as does the art direction which is lovingly attended to. The sets are rich in period and although the film doesnít feel lavish, it does feel full.
The cast is strong although the performances are subtle and no one stands out. There is a bit of a battle of wills between Ed Nortonís magician and Paul Giamattiís investigator but this isnít over played. The film makers use restraint throughout.
If only they had been more restrained in the length of the picture. While not a long film, the story just doesnít go on long enough to support the length. Itís a good, solid story and could have been very charming but there are too many padded scenes. The plot points are hit and then dragged out a little.
The ending is a bit of a stretch as well. What happens in the film is a trick, like the kind a magician plays on stage. However, the reveal is more of a realization and there is little foundation for the investigator to suddenly piece it all together. I would have preferred if they used all that extra time to give him more clues.
Still, The Illusionist has a charming little story and a film with a good story is always enjoyable. This quiet little film wonít be remembered but it should be enjoyed as a pleasant slight of hand.