Thursday, August 31, 2006

Movie: The Illusionist (2006)

Neil Burger’s historical drama looks and sounds extraordinary, thanks to silent movie techniques, brooding cinematography by Dick Pope, and Philip Glass’ hypnotic score. But the greatest of its pleasures is the acting. Burger casts the movie with performers who know how to work in the grand theatrical style without ever winking at the camera or crossing over into camp. Paul Giamatti – is there anyone better right now? I say no – plays a genially corrupt police inspector in a manner that would warm the hearts of Claude Rains and Orson Welles, while Rufus Sewell’s villainous prince doffs his crown to Basil Rathbone. Edward Norton’s contemporary intensity in the title role makes for a splendid contrast.

The story ultimately proves to be slight but satisfying. It’s the lush canvas that’s the draw here. The Illusionist is old-fashioned in the best sense of the word; it has the feel of one of those lesser-known titles that surface on Turner Classic Movies and immediately suck you in.