'The Illusionist: Special Edition' [Blu-ray]
(Paul Giamatti, Edward Norton, Jessica Biel, Rufus Sewell, Eddie Marsan, et al / Blu-ray / PG-13 / (2006) 2019 / MVD Marquee Collection)
Overview: In turn-of-the-century Vienna, a magician uses his abilities to secure the love of a woman far above his social standing.
Blu-ray Verdict: I honestly can't really remember the last time I was so amazed by the quality and development of a movie. Not just flabbergasted, but filled with awe as the story was constructed inside a most meticulously brilliant frame.
I say meticulous because the film excels in every aspect imaginable. All of the production values contribute discreetly to give the film that taste, like inhaling deep beauty all around.
Scrupulous and beautiful art direction, from the dusty lamps to the sculpted street scenarios, to the wonderful wardrobe election, are all founded on careful creation.
When the young magician Eisenheim attempts to run away with his true love, the princess Sophie, the imposing wall of class divisions rises between them, and the star-crossed lovers are separated.
Years later, Eisenheim (Edward Norton) has risen to be the most popular - and mysterious - illusionist in Vienna, and Sophie (Jessica Biel) is betrothed to Crown Prince Leopold (Rufus Sewell), a tyrant-in-training who has designs on his father's throne as Emperor.
Leopold grows increasingly uneasy about Eisenheim, whose relationship to Sophie is unknown to the Crown Prince, believing that the magician is committing fraud or claiming to possess supernatural powers.
What truly irks the prince, though, is that Eisenheim manages to upstage him at the Prince's own castle with a magical display that enchants his audience of the social elite.
And so Leopold orders Chief Inspector Uhl (Paul Giamatti) to investigate the illusionist closely to determine his secrets.
Eisenheim performs some truly astounding tricks, including growing an orange tree before the unbelieving eyes of the audience and transporting a handkerchief from a closed box in the audience to the claws of small doves on the stage.
But after a truly unfortunate turn of events, his show becomes quite minimalist in scope: The Illusionist merely sits on the stage and conjures - yes, conjures - speaking, reacting ghosts to wow and astound the audience, while Eisenheim mopes about distractedly.
What has happened to put him in this state cannot be explained here, unfortunately. But when Eisenheim's performances go a little too far for the Crown Prince's liking, Leopold orders Uhl to arrest the magician.
But this is no mere telling of unrequited love followed by the mysteries of a magician. The placid Eisenheim desperately misses his long-lost love, and when he sees her in the company of the overbearing boor Prince Leopold, he uses all of the magic at his disposal to free the beautiful Sophie from the Crown Prince.
How this is ultimately accomplished constitutes the great twist in The Illusionist.
Norton is simply - to use a pun shamefully - spellbinding as Eisenheim, a man who uses a paucity of words, every motion calculated well in advance, every emotion kept in check, doled out in spring-loaded moments of unbridled passion.
Eisenstein, in the capable hands of Norton, is a romantic, a cipher, an unknowable hero. It's a shame the movie was released during a year in which many other wonderful performances evolved on the screen, because Norton - twice nominated for Academy awards - turns in a performance that rivals those of his more-lauded roles.
Surprisingly, Biel is pretty good - and, of course, devastatingly sexy - as the aristocrat trapped in a loveless marriage who finally finds someone worth living for and with.
Of course, there's not much to be surprised about, since I haven't seen her in much, just Ulee's Gold, when she was a kid, and the Texas Chainsaw Massacre remake.
Still, she's hot, and it's rare that a gorgeous actress can actually show emotional range. It's a real treat, too, to watch Giamatti, who's well cast as the intrepid inspector, a role with more than a passing acquaintance with Claude Rains' Captain Renault of Casablanca, a man not above petty bribery and graft but with his own system of morals.
A lush, dark mystery, The Illusionist relies heavily on the splendid performances of its three youthful leads to weave wonderful threads of mystery, romance, and intrigue.
Now released as a sparkling new Blu-ray via MVD Marquee Collection, this is a Widescreen Presentation (1.85:1) enhanced for 16x9 TVs and comes with the Special Features of:
Sourced from existing remaster of the film
Feature Audio Commentary from Writer/Director Neil Burger
The Making of the Illusionist Featurette (SD, 3:59)
Jessica Biel on the Illusionist Featurette (SD, 1:29)
Original Theatrical Trailer (SD, 2:30)
Audio: 5.1 DTS HD Master Audio, English 5.1 Dolby Surround, French 5.1 Dolby Surround
English and Spanish Subtitles
Amazon Blu-ray Purchase Link