The Illusionist perhaps suffers from being released in proximity to The Prestige, a far superior period piece sharing the use of magic as a storytelling conceit. However, The Illusionist has two strong assets to point out:
- The cinematography is truly beautiful, comprised of sepia images (seemlingly projected by oil lamp) and old-school iris out transitions. These are no doubt digital approximations of the real thing, but lovely (and less distracting than it sounds) nonetheless. In a brief moment of meta-commentary, the solution to a magic trick is deconstructed on screen as involving an early movie camera.
- As if Paul Giamatti still needed to prove anything after his recent run of top-shelf performances, he is extraordinary here; not merely content to affect a realistic Viennese accent, he transforms the entire timbre of his voice.
I don’t know where to start with this one. I’ve been a M. Night Shyamalan fan from the very beginning, even when the role was better described as apologist. Even to a fan, nearly every film comes with a "yeah, but…" disclaimer: The Sixth Sense is an excellent piece of slight-of-hand with some genuine emotion, but let down by an extended montage at the end recapping events recontextualized by the already-clear Big Plot Reveal. Unbreakable, my personal favorite, is a remarkably mature character piece on a real-world Superman, but whose comic-book origins probably alienated a mainstream audience that wants its comic book movies clearly signposted by garish costumes and action set pieces. Signs is a perfectly crafted sci-fi thriller that doubles as a wildly funny comedy (an intentional one, I should be clear… more on that later), but the delicious suspense is nearly ruined in the end by the filmmakers’ overconfidence in their shoddy CGI alien.
The Shyamalan backlash started as soon as The Sixth Sense, perhaps in direct correlation with its box office take, with people falling over themselves claiming to have detected the Big Plot Reveal well ahead of time. But with The Village, the time for fans’ dithering began: if not nearly as bad as its critical reception, it was a disappointment. A promising scernario satirizing the contemporary situation in Bush’s color-coded police state is stifled by a lack of humor uncharacteristic for the director, not to mention an underwhelming twist ending without the emotional punch of The Sixth Sense.
The classic Shyamalan film is a schematicly constructed jigsaw, which in itself is a great pleasure. But in The Lady in the Water, the tail wags the dog to an even greater degree than The Village. Humorless, pretentious, and forehead-slappingly… well, sorry for the cheap shot… stupid.