10 September 2006

Neil Burger's The Illusionist, which is easily the best film I've seen all year, is something so rare that it took me a long time to figure out what it was: a fully realized American movie. I've grown so used to ambitious but scattershot films and screenplays that run out of ideas before the halfway mark that it's almost a shock to see a movie that starts promisingly, moves sedately from one great scene to another, and never steps wrong. You almost have to go back to The Usual Suspects, which The Illusionist resembles in more ways than one, to find a movie for grown-ups that brims with this sort of quiet confidence. It's a movie that Michael Powell would have been proud to make.

In some ways, The Illusionist is so controlled and modest a film that I'm worried about overselling it. It's wonderfully entertaining without being frantic, visually impressive without being flashy, and clever without showing off. At times, the wheels of the plot are a tad too visible, and you can see the ending coming a mile away, but it's hard to complain when what happens in the meantime is so pleasurable. The film never runs out of surprises, and the acting, especially by Paul Giamatti, is so stylish that it upstages the music and cinematography, which are among the best I've encountered in years. It's enough to make you believe again in clean, unobtrusive craftsmanship, verging on genius. When was the last time a movie pulled off that trick?

No comments: