Friday, September 01, 2006

Review: The Illusionist

I went out to an early bird matinee today and caught “The Illusionist.” There are spoilers in the review, so watch the movie first, unless you don’t care about having it ruined.

It wasn’t bad. I don’t think it was great either, though. It was missing something and I’m having a hard time putting my finger on it. The story was interesting, the period is engaging, the actors are wonderful, the music was amazing (Phillip Glass did the score and it was quite excellent).

The problem, I think was the structure of the film. It just didn’t work. It was limp. The climax wasn’t exciting, the danger seemed forced, the suspense was non-existent and the love story was weak. All of the other elements were there, the movie just chugged along and didn’t care to do a great job of setting the story up for itself. It felt as though the film was directed by a first time director and was forced to bookend the picture with a scene that allows Paul Giamatti to narrate when he isn’t capable of telling the story in pictures. (click link below to read more...) Rarely do I say a film should be longer, but this one should have been an extra reel long and it should have been at the beginning of the film. It needed at least an extra fifteen minutes of set-up to properly establish the story elements required to evoke the emotions the filmmaker seemed to want to evoke. For example, what if Mel Gibson’s “Braveheart” had relegated the entire establishment of it’s love story into one five minute flashback with child actors without even a passing resemblance to Mel Gibson and his co-star? Would it have 1/10th the emotional impact the film does now? That’s part of the problem with the structure, the pieces are there, the filmmakers just didn’t use them properly.

I think another problem with the film is that there is only one scene between the good guy and the bad guy. They both want the same thing, essentially, which is the girl. They have one scene together in Act One and two smaller cameos with each other, also in Act One. One thing that could have heightened the suspense in the film would have been to give them at least one very confrontational scene together where Edward Norton and Rufus Sewell lay it out on the line the consequences of the action.

Another problem with the film is that Edward Norton says nary a word in the second act of the film. It is supposed to be communicated to me that this man is a genius and yet he basically stares at his hand for the middle act of the film.

William Goldman explained in one of his screenwriting books that audiences like to see how things work. They like to see con jobs pulled off. They like to see the good guy get away with it. I’m paraphrasing, naturally, but I really agree with this. I think it would have helped the film to not keep the audience so far in the dark, so that when the filmmakers hit you with the ending from “Usual Suspects” (yes, the ending is a rug pull) you are left wishing you’d seen everything played out.

Don’t get me wrong, the film had a lot of strong scenes and acting, they just didn’t compliment the story. And the “book-ended” structure with Paul Giamatti’s character feels forced and tacked on later.

I enjoyed this film better than “Little Miss Sunshine,” that’s for sure, but at the end of the day, I don’t think anyone will remember either of these films five years from now.

(One more nit-picky point-Although it shouldn’t have, it drove me nuts that you could tell that the brick patterns on buildings were just painted on. The flawed structure of the film was able to destroy some of my disbelief suspension and it drove me up the wall. I know it’s nit-picky, but there were times where it took me out of the film.)

1 comment:

Craig said...

Dont forget that it robbed the way it showed the ending from Usual Suspects you could almost put both endings side by side and see twin endings...but still im impressed the movie kept me awake-