Conjuring a 2006 audience for The Illusionist, a romantic thriller about magic set in turn-of-the-20th-century Vienna, may require more sleight of hand than its marketers can muster. The trick will be to make arthouse gripes (that the movie is too commercial) disappear while pulling mainstream crowds from its period hat. Selling points include hypnotic performances by Edward Norton, who plays the title’s con, and Paul Giamatti as the chief inspector out to bust his act. A few seats could get filled because the producers also made Crash and Sideways. Plus, fans of Interview With the Assassin may want to see what writer/director Neil Burger has done for his sophomore effort. But last I checked, Austro-Hungarian Empire intrigues were low on American kool lists, and shall we say that the pre-sold market for Steven Millhauser’s short story, “Eisenheim the Illusionist,” on which the film is based, is somewhat less than for Harry Potter? Into this outreach abyss steps a MySpace site that summons the spirit of Barnum. There (amid campaign debris and insights like “Edward Norton kicks ass!”) appears the caveat, “Nothing is as it appears.” But scroll down and it says the film is “Appearing in theaters August 18!” So is it or isn’t it? Ladies and gentlemen, I give you The Illusionist.
—Posted by Laura Blum