Every once in a while a movie comes out that I want to see, but it doesn't look exciting enough to pay full price for it, so I wait until I have an open afternoon and I go to a matinee showing. Then there are those movies that catch my curiosity, but not to the point where I want to spend even matinee prices to see it when I could use the six bucks toward something more fulfilling. That's when I wait until the movie is released in the dollar theater, accepting the fact that I'll have to deal with crowds of high school kids, extra-sticky floors, mediocre sound, and a few reels of film stock that look like they've been unraveled and dragged behind a truck for fifty miles. Sometimes, though, a movie barely catches my attention, and I hear one or two people talking about it, so after six or seven months of its original release I finally work up a spark of a desire to see it. That's where Redbox comes in, and that's the setup for my viewing of "The Illusionist," last year's response to Christopher Nolan's ingenious "The Prestige." (Yes, the latter was released second, but I believe it went into pre-production first.)
However, to be fair, I will refrain from making comparisons between the two, though the "coincidence" in the timing of their releases is uncanny. My comments directed to the film are as a standalone work. That being said, I continue:
What a waste of great performing talent. Paul Giamatti steals the show simply by further displaying his versatile abilities, yet his character is nothing more than the ignorant sheriff. Edward Norton has earned my respect as an actor, yet as a masculine hero in this movie he comes off more as a weenie child. Rufus Sewell, who plays the haughty villain in every movie you'll ever see him in (except for the aptly-titled "Amazing Grace," where he somewhat suspiciously plays a morally-upstanding inspiration behind the abolition of slavery in England), follows tradition here with an antagonist so shallow that his every thought and action are predictable: suave facade, irritation at protagonist, revelation of evil plans, furious reaction at others' happiness, hamartia demonstrated in the heat of passion, suave cover up, nervous reaction to unexpected evidence, insane downfall. His character might as well have been modeled after Dean Jones' character in "Beethoven" (1992). Finally, Jessica Biel wasn't looking nearly as hot as she could have.
I kept looking at the time, wondering how far I was going to get into the movie before deciding that I was finally being entertained. The whole movie felt like a setup rather than exposition of an actual plot: a childhood forbidden love is reintroduced to two now-adults, who must find a way to be together until they encounter a dire obstacle. We dwell so much on one or two pieces of what could have been a very grandiose puzzle, but are cheated with an attempt at a clever twist at the end that anyone can see coming from miles away -- which says something for the town sheriff, who takes no part in proactive thought until 90 minutes after we've already solved the riddle. I hate feeling smarter than the supposed experts in the story, especially when I'm no detective. That means that the writers created unintelligent characters.
All of this means that the slow pacing of the film makes you glad it's under two hours' length since you aren't really being taken anywhere worthwhile.
It's worth a Redbox rental to satisfy any lingering curiosity you may have after reading a very belated review. However, might I make a suggestion? With the one dollar you would have otherwise used to check this disappointment out, go see "The Prestige" instead -- even if this will be the fifth time you see it.