The Illusionist is an Edward Norton film that may not get as much fanfare as it truly deserves. It’s a well-thought-out and paced film that Norton fans (or even non-Norton fans) have a chance to see for free on YouTube Movies.
Watch Edward Norton in The Illusionist right here:
The Illusionist stars Edward Norton as Eisenheim, a magician in turn-of-century Vienna, who vies for the hand of his childhood sweetheart, the now Duchess Sophie von Teschen (Jessica Biel), with Crown Prince Leopold (Rufus Sewell).
The story, which also includes a fictionalized account of the Mayerling incident (a series of events surrounding the apparent murder-suicide pact between the Crown Prince of Austria, Rudolph, and his lover, Mary Freiin von Vetsera) begins in 1889 when Eisenheim is arrested by Chief Inspector Walter Uhl (Paul Giamatti) during Eisenheim’s magic show.
It is here that Eisneheim explains to Uhl his history with Sophie, how they met as kids, how they fell in love, and how they were separated. They meet again fifteen years later after Eisenheim had been abroad studying magic. During one of his performances, Eisenheim unexpectedly sees Sophie, learning that she is to marry the Crown Prince.
The Crown Prince is taken by Eisenheim’s magic, so he invites the magician to perform for him at a private affair. But Eisenheim has heard all the horrific rumors surrounding Leopold to include his brutality toward women and even one of murder.
Eisenheim, during his performance, humiliates Leopold. The Crown Prince then bans Eisenheim from performing anywhere in Vienna. When Sophie meets up with Eisenheim to offer help, the two become bedmates, and Eisenheim asks her to run away with him but not before she tells Eisenheim that Leopold is planning a coup d’état against his father.
Though Sophie fears execution for her and Eisenheim, she attempts to end her engagement with Leopold. The next day, her body is discovered in the woods near the Mayerling hunting lodge.
A despondent Eisenheim retools his shows. He buys a theater and begins to focus on summoning the dead. Audiences, as well as Leopold, are shocked when Eisenheim brings back the spirit of Sophie. Leopold is more unnerved when the summoned Sophie claims that someone in the audience is her killer.
Despite warnings to not bring Sophie back, Eisenheim does, causing Uhl to rush the stage. There Uhl finds out that Eisenheim himself is a spirit as his hand passes through Eisenheim.
The Illusionist is all about misdirection and it is done well. Director Neil Burger, who also penned the script, has crafted a neat story with fine twists. He handles the magic scenes with aplomb, having used technical advice from magicians such as James Freedman, Ricky Jay, Michael Weber, and Scott Penrose. According to Burger, Freedman was a major force in helping with the movie.
“Starting in pre-production, James became a major collaborator; brainstorming, designing and refining everything from small sleight of hand tricks to major narrative set pieces,” said Burger via Magicweek. “He worked with Edward Norton preparing him for his stage performances and acted as a hand double in various scenes. His contribution was enormous.”
Burger’s film cost producers a mere $16.5 million to bring to the big screen and it was a wide investment as the box office take almost hit $88 million. Critically speaking, the movie was also a hit.
The one thing you can say about Edward Norton’s performance as Eisenheim is that he doesn’t mail it in. In fact, that is the one thing throughout Norton’s career that can be appreciated. He may have some on-set baggage he carries with him, but his performances are almost always top-notch.
As for Edward Norton, he started strong with his initial screen performance in the underrated Primal Fear. Recognition was immediate as he turned his brilliant performance as Aaron into starring roles in Everyone Says I Love You and The People vs. Larry Flynt.
His next claim to fame would come in American History X where he played a reformed neo-Nazi. Then came another biggie with Fight Club where he played opposite Brad Pitt.
Edward Norton’s career is lined with star-making performances but is also lined with notoriety, and not the good kind. Norton carries the tag of “being difficult to work with.” He has been known to make waves by demanding edits to final cuts of his films, which he handles himself, as well as rewriting scripts against the wishes of producers.
All this upheaval has not set him in the good graces around Hollywood, which eventually has taken its toll on his movie output. Since 2015, Norton has been seen in two films, the 2016 Collateral Beauty and 2019’s underrated Motherless Brooklyn. He has, though, lent his voice to a number of films to include Sausage Party, Isle of Dogs, and Ask the Storybots.
Maybe the 2020s are going to be better for Edward Norton. He already has one film in the can, The French Dispatch, and next up for the troubled (or maybe misunderstood) actor is Knives Out 2, the sequel to the surprise Rian Johnson 2019 hit Knives Out, which sees the return of Daniel Craig as detective Benoit Blanc.
It’d be nice to see more of Edward Norton on the big screen as his talent is without question. For now, though, you can catch him in the film The Illusionist for free on YouTube Movies.