Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Jessica Biel can act (!) and other surprises

Last night I had the distinct pleasure of seeing an early screening of The Illusionist, starring Edward Norton, Paul Giamatti, and Jessica Biel. Yes, I know this is only tangentially related to TV, but given that Biel starred in a show I positively scorn (Seventh Heaven, to be specific), I thought it noteworthy to post.

Let me start off by saying that the movie is spectacular. It's got romance, political intrigue, magic, and mystery. Long-time big-screen boyfriend Edward Norton stars as the enigmatic Eisenheim the Illusionist, who has captivated turn-of-the-century Vienna with his surreal and spiritual performances. Jessica Biel, in a surprising bit of casting, plays Sophie, the childhood love Eisenheim was torn from and still burns for. And Paul Giamatti, who excels at any role he plays, is the police inspector investigating Eisenheim's illusions and potential agenda with regard to Sophie's boyfriend, the Crown Prince (Rufus Sewell).

The movie is full of surprises and reveals, not the least of which is the capable performance that Biel gives as Sophie. It helps that she is stunning on film, ethereal and luminous in period clothing and lighting. Even better, there's no twinge of spoiled Mary Camden in her performance, which I was surprised to enjoy.

It's no surprise, however, that Norton is perfectly cast as Eisenheim. The film's director, Neil Burger, who was present after the screening, describes Norton as "intense." That intensity works very well for the character of a late 19th century magician in The Illusionist. Norton is commanding and self-possessed on stage, naturally inhabiting the showman characteristics necessary to perform to a large audience. In his scenes with Biel, he's magnetic and passionate. No one gives dark looks filled with ardor and longing like Norton -- except, perhaps, Jason Dohring. (Fitting since the two could be brothers -- both blessed with an abundance of talent and enough charisma to have chemistry with a block of wood.)

Performances aside, the writing, art direction, and music are lovely. The score, composed by Philip Glass, is haunting and mysterious with a dramatic flair of which Eisenheim himself would approve. The script, also written by Burger, is great too -- particularly the philosophical, lyrical speeches Eisenheim gives during each of his performances. The movie has an intentionally eerie "silent-film" appearance which, along with Prague as the backdrop, makes the events of the film seem part of another time. Everything that happens takes on the otherworldly feel of a place where reality blurs and magic may be possible.

Essentially, I loved it. My sister loved it. And you might love it too! So if you want to see Mary Camden really act, watch Edward Norton be hot for 110 minutes, or just enjoy a truly great movie, check out The Illusionist. It's opening August 18th, and there's a trailer here.


At 3:27 PM, Blogger Abbey said...

I had seen ads or little blurbs about this...glad to hear that it is good!

Also, how in the heck were you lucky enough to got to a screening with the director?? Dang, Girl! You're movin' up in the world!

PS Yes, I'm killing time (and pushing away nerves) before the interview.


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