I recommend watching both of these films, but avoid a double feature. They need to be watched and appreciated individually for what they are and what they aren't.
This film begins with a love story between the son of a cabinet-maker and an Austrian Duchess, Sophie von Teschen. It’s an unusual match within a class conscious society, but the boy has a talent for illusion and from the very beginning, he enchants von Teschen with his charm and skill.
Inevitably, the characters’ respective stations in life prohibit them from pursuing their relationship into full adulthood, and the young boy leaves to travel the world and become The Great Eisenheim, a master illusionist. Sophie, on the other hand, is betrothed to Prince Leopold in a political move to gain Hungarian support for the crown. This is unfortunate for Sophie, because Leopold is not an upstanding fellow.
By chance, Eisenheim returns to
Visually, the film is soft and warm with the occasional addition of the iris effect to add historical ambiance. The illusions created by Eisenheim are lovely, and they’re also poetic in a way that only Edward Norton could present. The poetry was in the words used, but it was punctuated by Norton’s movement and specifically his strong ability to act and emote subtly with his eyes.
I was very, very pleased with this film, and I'm also thinking about picking up the soundtrack by Philip Glass.
Hugh Jackman and Christian Bale are illusionists who become entangled within a tale of bitter rivalry and revenge. As is often the case, the story begins with the tragic death of a beautiful woman, and it moves towards a quest by Jackman to discover exactly how Bale is staging his greatest trick.
There’s a lot of eye-candy in this film particularly where Nikola Tesla is concerned. (Did I mention that I have a soft spot for Serbian-American physicists who hold a passion for electrical currents and extraterrestrial radio signals...?) Unfortunately, while the role of Tesla makes good sense at the beginning of the film…as a diversion, it later becomes a deus ex machina for Jackman’s character, and in my opinion, detracts from the truly interesting part of the film...Bale’s method.
The Prestige is worth seeing, but honestly, I feel that the Illusionist is a finer film, and I’m a bit perplexed by the incongruity in recognition (Academy Award nomination aside) between the two films. They both came out at approximately the same time, but I’ve experienced more press and praise for The Prestige than I have for The Illusionist. Perhaps, it’s because The Illusionist contains more subtlety, and many people don’t like to work for the story.