Magazine article The Spectator

Glower Power

Magazine article The Spectator

Glower Power

Article excerpt

The Illusionist PG, selected cinemas

The Illusionist is one of those films that gains points for trying to be clever and different and ingenious but then promptly loses them all for being not clever or different or ingenious enough. It's frustrating, really, because you can feel the good film trying to get out -- 'let me out, let me out!' -- but a banal script, some woeful miscasting and a rather desperate plot 'twist' simply won't let it. I put the 'twist' in quotation marks because you'll figure it out way before the characters, and will spend at least an hour of this film wishing they'd figure it out so we can all call it a day and get home for whatever it is we like to do at home. Personally, I like to nap and eat cheese.

Certainly, The Illusionist, set in 19th-century Austria, is delicious to look at, and the story begins promisingly enough with two children, a carpenter's son and a young duchess, being separated because their close friendship is frowned upon by her social circle. 'Make us disappear, ' the girl, Sophie, urges the boy as her guardians close in. But the boy, who is also an amateur conjurer, because he met a wizardy man under a tree, cannot, and so they are forced to part. At this point, you may well be thinking, as I did: oh, terrific, a Romeo and Juliet-style period romp embroidered with some 'ta-da' magical bits. Bring it on.

But then it is brought on, and it's just not any good.

We next catch up with the boy and girl 15 years later in Vienna, where the strudel looks fine and the population appears to speak in varying accents, ranging from heavily Germanic, faux-Viennese through to pure Oxford (for heaven's sake, as a film goer is it too much to ask that accents are at least consistent, if not dead-on? ).

Anyway, that boy is now Eisenheim (Edward Norton), the great stage illusionist, while Sophie has matured into modelturned-actress Jessica Biel, which is nice. (I wouldn't mind maturing into Jessica Biel one day; wouldn't object in the least. She is very, very beautiful. ) But Sophie is not happy. Against her will, she has been betrothed to the villainous Crown Prince Leopold, played by Rufus Sewell, who wears a pantomime baddie moustache and does nothing but glower, lest we forget just how villainous he is and how miserable Sophie is, which we don't, because of all that glowering. …

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