There’s a scene just at the end of The Illusionist in which Chief Inspector Uhl, played by a likable Paul Giamatti, suddenly gains understanding of what has just happened in the previous two hours. Standing in the middle of a crowded train station, he breaks into a wide grin, confident that all has explained to him. The mystery is solved. He is enlightened. It's not unlike the end of “The Usual Suspects”, when the detective figures out who Keyser Soze is. Except for one minor detail. The audience are still left completely in the dark and instead of feeling enlightened, I just felt irritated.
Maybe it’s just me. Maybe the plot was too complicated, maybe I wasn’t paying attention as carefully as I should have been. But, leaving my possible stupidity out of the equation, the ending to The Illusionist is still an unsatisfactory pill to swallow. We have been completely duped by Edward Norton’s unblinking Eisenhiem, but as good as a magician as he is, he fails to address the fact that unless we have some way of riddling out the clues ourselves, half the fun is gone.
The Illusionist is a gothic fairytale set in early 20th century
The ending and Rufus Sewell are two of the things I liked least about The Illusionist. There were also plenty of things I really enjoyed about it, mainly the cinematography. Or, as I put it to my sister upon leaving the cinema, “wow, pretty colours!”. Monochrome street scenes tinged with golden light, the flickering candle intensity of the magic shows, the almost technicolour glory of the train station, this is an extremely aesthethicly pleasing film. The quibbles I have with Philip Glass are fairly minor; he does tend to copy himself an awful lot and sometimes his scores are too overbearing (“Strings! Descending piano scales! Strings! Intensity! Pulsing strings!”), but that doesn’t change the fact I really dig his music. Even though I think he needs to borrow “Film Music For Dummies” from his local library and give it a quick thumb.
I wouldn’t discourage people from seeing this in the cinema. The presence of Edward Norton alone should be enough to entice many people to purchase a ticket and his performance is a treat. While his accent took me a little while to get used to, I quickly became accustumed to his mannered, strange way of speaking and totally believed in his character. It’s a fairly well-made, pretty production and even if the ending leaves you scratching your head/shaking it in disgust, it’s gaurunteed better than Norbit.