Thursday, March 8. 2007
Why? O, why?
This could have been a good film. It wasn't.
The plot isn't too taxing, well if you've got a brain. Young duchess (about 10 or so) meets peasant boy (same age) by accident and befriends him. They're banned from seeing each other but still do. They decide somewhere after puberty that they love each other and are going to run away, but the duchess' guards catch them and stop them. Boy goes away for 15 years and comes back as Eisenheim the Illusionist, the eponymous hero.
He does some fancy tricks (sadly all with CGI, I was willing to buy into it, but couldn't entirely dismiss the fact I knew it was all modern trickery, my companion couldn't get that out of her head and found it deeply annoying). Duchess and older peasant boy/illusionist meet, reaffirm their love and decide to run away. Sadly the duchess is now more or less betrothed to the (invetiably) evil Crown Prince so (gosh, shock horror) they mount a scam to get away from him. The scam succeeds: the film would have been MUCH better if the illusionist had used his arts to gain his revenge, but surely anyone going to see a film about an illusionist must consider that it's all an elaborate illusion, which it is.
The crown prince was pretty much charicatured evil: beating women, killing ones that might blab on him, planning to mount a coup to overthrow his father and so forth. His death is not so much a tragedy as a blessed relief. The illusionist never really lets his true self show, as you might expect, he was solid and plausible rather than a bad charicature, but still not sympathetic. The woman is a pawn. She's well acted, and there's a bit of sympathy for her choosing to follow her heart rather than her duty, but she's not there enough to really pull you in.
That leaves, of all the unlikely characters, the head of the Crown Prince's secret police to pull the audience in. Paul Giamitti is as warm and friendly as always, an ideal actor to pull the audience in. I suspect that's why they cast him to be honest. Sadly, for me at least, he didn't work for just that reason. The chief of the secret police (his best line went "Are you totally corrupt?" "No, not totally") ought to be corrupt, suspicious and just nasty. Yes it's a charicature again, but he failed to really express himself as cynical and suspicous, and he didn't really come across as corrupt except in that exchange - in fact once he was convinced that the Crown Prince was the murderer he informed the Emperor which led directly to the Crown Prince's death. Not even corrupt at the end.
It's not one of those films that makes me think "God, that's 2 hours of my life I'll never get back" but watch it again? Only if you paid me a significant amount.
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I think the fact that the "illusions" were pulled off with CGI telegraphed in advance that the filmakers weren't going to be arsed with coming up with a clever in-period solution to the protagonists' problems. They were going to take the easy way out. And they did.
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