Posts Tagged ‘Ed Norton’


The-Illusionist-edward-norton-146772_1024_768The Illusionist is a strange story that is part The Usual Suspects, part Masterpiece Theatre. Set in turn of the century Vienna, the story mixes political intrigue, love and magic into a sparkling confection that mesmerizes the eye and the mind.

Ed Norton plays Eisenheim the Illusionist, a stage magician who possesses powers greater than any of his contemporaries. He is tall, elegant and mysterious. In one elaborate trick—which is based on an actual illusion performed by the legendary Robert Houdin—an orange tree grows on stage, bears fruit and for the finale, two butterflies fly from the tree carrying a handkerchief previously borrowed from an audience member.

When the magician baffles and embarrasses a member of the royal family—who also happens to be engaged to his childhood sweetheart—Eisenheim’s act comes under the scrutiny of the power hungry Inspector Uhl, played by Paul Giamatti. Like Eisenheim’s magical orange tree the story blossoms before our eyes, but keeping it’s inner workings under wraps. There is more going on here than meets the eye, and director Neil Burger skillfully juggles the murder mystery, mystical and magical elements of the story.

Edward Norton hands in his usual adroit performance as Eisenheim. Smooth and polished, his portrayal of the magician is powerful, with the only major problem being the bizarre accent he uses. It may be historically correct, but it sounds too mannered and prissy.

In a story full of wonder, it is Paul Giamatti who really amazes. As Inspector Uhl Giamatti completely sheds the Joe-Schmo persona that marks his most famous roles and delivers a polished portrait of a power hungry man who will not let the truth stand in the way of climbing up the political ladder. He plays a policeman, who ironically, steals the movie from the rest of the cast.

The Illusionist is a rarity, an independent period piece. The film was made on a budget, and was budgeted at a fraction of what a comparable Hollywood film would cost, but you would never know it. It is a sumptuous looking film about the nature of power and the power of people to believe in something they don’t understand.


25thhourIn recent years I have found Spike Lee movies to be very frustrating. Fifty percent of each movie I really like, but then there’s the remaining fifty percent that just infuriates me. It’s not bad filmmaking; it’s just unnecessary filmmaking. There is a lot of stuff in these films that doesn’t further the story, that is preachy, and simply doesn’t belong there. But the stuff that’s good is really, really good, and I found The 25th Hour to be another example of that.

plays small-time drug dealer Montgomery Brogan, who, after being arrested by the DEA, reevaluates his life in his last 24 hours before beginning a seven-year jail term. Interesting premise. Why then muddy it up with a commentary on September 11th that seems out of place, and kind of badly chosen? Exploring the relationship between Brogan and his two best friends, Jacob and Frank (Phillip Seymour-Hoffman and Barry Pepper) and how their friendship will change once Montgomery goes to jail would have been a great character drama.

Instead Lee adds a September 11th angle that feels tacked on and doesn’t add to the movie. Don’t get me wrong, it probably comes from a very sincere place. Spike Lee makes incredible movies about New York and is passionate about the city and probably felt like he had to find a way to tell this story, but he ties the September 11th angle to Montgomery’s story, and in the context of the whole movie I didn’t really understand the connection. If we are supposed to infer that the life New York was changed by the terrorist attacks just as the life of Edward Norton’s character was changed by getting arrested I think it is a weak comparison, and frankly, inappropriate. The dynamic between the three friends is great. I wanted more of that. Loose the September 11th stuff, some of the peripheral story lines and just tell me that story and it would have been a better movie.

25th Hour is classic Spike Lee – brilliant, fearless but at the same time troublesome.