Sunday, September 03, 2006

Illusions, and more illusions.

Last weekend I saw Paul Giamatti in Circuit City, this weekend I saw him in "The Illusionist." Great opening line, now I guess I actually have to comment on the film. Trouble is, I don't have much to say. There are many things to like about it - two of my favorite actors in Edward Norton and Paul Giamatti, a surprisingly decent turn by Jessica Biel, some nice scenery, a somewhat tantalizing mystery - and yet, in the sum of things, it wasn't very good. The mystery is pretty transparent; I'd guessed it practically from the opening scene (before the nature of the crime was even revealed) and the "clues" which finally cinch it are ludicrous at best. (Somewhat spoiler alert - a tiny object, smaller than a fingernail, is not going to be found in the folds of a dress of a woman who has a)fallen from a horse and b)floated for several hours in water and c)been dragged from the water to be resuscitated. Although all this proves, in retrospect, is how stupid and gullible Giamatti's detective really is.) I confess: when I'm presented with a mystery, I'm going to look for holes in the solution, because satisfaction is a tight and cohesive plot. One that is entertaining on top of being logical? Brilliant. "The Illusionist"? Not so much.

Another pet peeve - if a film shows a master illusionist perform, I don't want camera tricks and editing to make his illusions work. We should see the same thing the audience sees - in other words, if it can't be duplicated by the actor, then it shouldn't be done by the fictional character. Otherwise, nothing needs to be logical in the film, because once you open the door to magic, then anything and everything comes in. If you want us to believe that the crime was committed the way you reveal at the end, that is, by real live humans using actual physically demonstrated means, then you can't fudge earlier on whether there is magic involved.

Wait, maybe I didn't like this film after all. I'm remembering now the shoddy beginning - a series of flashback scenes that give "history" to Norton's and Biel's characters, yet do little more than trot out every cliche you've ever imagined a young doomed couple could face. The younger actors playing them as teens are boring, the music is grossly obvious and melodramatic, and I had half a mind to walk out.

It did get better after that, although still not enough for me. I dare anyone to see this film and be surprised by the ending.


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