"The Illusionist" Movie Review

2/04/2011 Posted by Admin

"The Illusionist"

Movie Review

Written and directed by Sylvain Chomet, 80 minutes, rated PG.

By Christopher Smith

For those who have seen Sylvain Chomet's outstanding, 2003 Academy Award-nominated film, "The Triplets of Belleville," it would be difficult to believe that he could top it with his latest animated film, "The Illusionist." And guess what? He hasn't.

But he's come close.

The film is so good, it recently earned the Academy Award nomination for Best Animated Film it deserves. It's a beautifully rendered mood piece that features so little dialogue, it might have been a silent movie--if a silent movie didn't employ title cards to help nudge the story along, which this film doesn't.

Instead, Chomet leans hard on his talent to tell his story with almost no words (there's the occasional grunt, the happenstance "oui," a muddled line used more to capture a sense of emotion than to offer a clear sense of insight). He also leans hard on his audience to trust him to tell his story well. That he accomplishes each is an admirable feat.

The movie is a slick sleight-of-hand for many reasons, beginning with the script, which comes with an intriguing history.

Since the movie is based on a character who smacks of Jacques Tati, the writer, director and actor who is perhaps best known for directing such films as "Mon Oncle" and "Mr. Hulot's Holiday" (and also for co-starring in them), it's no wonder that the dialogue here is mashed into nothingness, since that's how Tati approached his own work. The film’s other kicker? Tati actually wrote the script's first draft before his 1982 death. It fell into Chomet's hands, who reworked it, and what we have now in the main character is an affectionate nod to Tati himself.

You don't need to know any of this to enjoy the film, but it does deepen the experience of watching it. Set in the 1950s, when the stage's footlights were giving way to the brighter lights of televisions and jukeboxes, the film follows Tatischeff (Tati's real surname), an illusionist of a certain age who is approaching the end of his career thanks to the intrusion of technology.

The movie opens in Paris, where Tatischeff is reduced to performing his act to the slim few who still care that a man can pull a scrappy rabbit out of a hat, which isn't many--certainly not what it used to be. And so, knowing there is little left for him here, he leaves for London, where he's struck with the onslaught of rock-and-roll just as it's taking root. With no chance to compete with this brash, new wave of music and its screaming fans, he travels on to Scotland, where he finds work at a local pub and meets Alice, a poor chambermaid who is fascinated by him.

Soon, this odd couple is living together. He's older than she is by decades and so he assumes a fatherly role, taking money he doesn't have to buy Alice a few things that might make her happy--new shoes, a beautiful dress, a smart coat. But for Tatischeff, the money is running out and worse, Alice has caught a younger man's eye. What's he to do? Since he's a gentleman, he let's Alice choose her own course.

Mirroring "The Triplets of Belleville," the water-colored animation in "The Illusionist" is presented in such a way that it gives the movie a unique sense of style and depth--you feel as if you could reach into it. Occasionally, Chomet allows for bits of computer-generated imagery to shock the screen with the unexpected, such as in a train's realistic puff of smoke or in the scenes in which silvery sheets of rain fall from the sky (there is another effect that's so smashing, it won't be revealed here--but you'll know it when you see it, and movie buffs just might faint at the sight of it).

Each of these moments are as real as the characters Chomet has created. And while it's true that his movie loses momentum midway through, that's a quibble because it finds itself again. For a film of so few words, the human emotions that are explored and revealed here are as staggering as they are ironic. Nobody communicates traditionally in "The Illusionist," but since Chomet lifts the movie to a high level of art, what's clearly communicated is that this is one of last year's best films.

Grade: A-

  • Digg
  • del.icio.us
  • StumbleUpon
  • Yahoo! Buzz
  • Technorati
  • Facebook
  • TwitThis
  • MySpace
  • LinkedIn
  • Live
  • Google
  • Reddit
  • Sphinn
  • Propeller
  • Slashdot
  • Netvibes