The Illusionist

PG 13, 110 minutes, color

In turn-of-the-century Vienna, a magician uses his powers to re-establish a relationship with a childhood friend, the woman he loved. This drama, mystery and romance has been getting a lot of positive press with some Oscar buzz.

The movie was directed and written by Neil Burger. His only other film was “Interview wih an Assassin.” “The Illusionist” is based upon a short story written by Steven Millhauser, who won the Pulitzer for “Martin Dressler” in 1997. The director of photography was Dick Pope who also was the DP for “ Dark City,” “Vera Drake,” “Nicholas Nickleby,” “Topsy Turvy,” “Secrets” and “Lives.” He has also worked on the upcoming “The Man of the Year,” Barry Levinson's 2006 project starring Robin Williams. The Illusionist music was composed by Phillip Glass, who did the music for “The Truman Show,” “The Hours,” “Taking Lives,” and “The Thin Blue Line.”

This movie stars Edward Norton as Eisenheim, the illusionist. Norton could get an Oscar nom depending upon the strength of his competition this year. He was previously seen in “The 25th Hour,” “The Italian Job,” “Frida,” “Fight Club,” “American History X,” “Rounders” and “Primal Fear,” his first film. I think Norton is one of America’s best actors of his age. Jessica Biel is Princess Sophie, Eisenheim’s love. Biel has been seen in Elizabethtown and Summer Catch. Paul Giamatti is Chief Inspector Uhl. You can see Giamatti in “Lady in the Water,” which is in the theatres now. He was previously in “Sideways” and “Cinderella Man.” Rufus Sewell is the crazed Crown Prince Leopold. Leopold has anger issues. Sewell was in “ Dangerous Beauty,” “Carrington,” “Cold Comfort Farm,” “ Dark City,” “A Knight’s Tale” and “Legend of Zorro.” Sewell is clearly enjoying playing a nut job from the dark side. Sewell will also be seen in a movie I am anxious to see later this year, “The Holiday.”

The movie was filmed in the Czech Republic, in Prague and just outside of Prague in Tabor. The look of the film is luscious and rich. The script is decent. The acting is very good. The story is seductive and takes some twists and turns and I refuse to even give you hints to the ending. The movie unfolds much like a puzzle. All the parts fit together by the end like a Rubiks cube. The viewing audience actually gets to use their gray matter in processing this film.

One of the best magicians working today, Ricky Jay, was the technical consultant and advisor for this film. I would like to see the bits again when Norton does some slight of hand. It is mesmerizing.

I did not see the end coming, but was very pleased and somewhat surprised.

Out of 5, I rate this movie a 4.