The Illusionist - DVD Review

'the conclusion is as profound as it needs to be, hinting at hope but overtly offering cynicism'

Sylvain Chomet's Oscar-nominated animation about an old-fashioned magician struggling to find a place in an increasingly cynical world, has both a surface level charm and an unexpected depth which largely overcomes the somewhat whimsical nature of its tale-telling. Looking beautifully similar to the Broken Sword videogames, Chomet and his animators imbue every frame in The Illusionist with immense detail, developing a world which has real character, borne out in some fantastic locations.

The problem with the film though is that in these fantastic locations, there often seems to be nothing happening. In an elongated scene covering our hapless illusionist washing a car there are few laughs and little drama. But we still spend a good few minutes with him. Washing a car.

Side characters flit in and out. Occasionally to make a point, occasionally to liven up proceedings, never to stay around for long enough to be developed in any meaningful way. They are artifices of the now crumbling world the protagonist lives in but they're never there for long enough to fill the void in The Illusionist's frothy centre.

What does go some way to filling that void is Chomet's reverence to cinema, performance and drama as an art form in general or - as it is often presented here - a distraction. The moral, when it finally comes, seems to nod back cleverly to the film's own medium but also to the wider world, now thoroughly explored by the two main characters who have experienced heartbreak and joy along the way. A messy and sentimental pre-ending moment with the illusionist's long-time collaborator is trotted out to pull at the heart strings. It's not needed. Chomet's real end is as profound as it needs to be, hinting at hope but overtly offering cynicism.

If the plot itself could just have been woven with a few more interesting moments it would be a whole heap easier to recommend this. The decision to make the film near-silent (a few grunts and groans and the occasional word in French are all the dialogue we get) is a brave one but it leaves another gaping hole which the inventive score can't quite fill. It's still particularly lovely and the visuals alone are a reason to watch but Chomet's theorising deserved a meatier narrative.

Look further...

'The Illusionist is a film that seems constructed almost entirely out of remorse. One made with the acute sensation of how much has been lost' - Things That Don't Suck


  1. I always enjoy your reviews and usually fully agree with you. I differ a little with this one.

    The Illusionist was one of my favourite films of 2010.

    Yes it is slow but it is so beautiful that I was spellbound from start to finish. A sad but magical movie.

  2. Many people would agree with you John so glad you fall into the category of viewers who got a lot out of it. I did enjoy it but just think the story could have been populated with a bit more substance - unlike you, because of its lightness, I wasn't spellbound although I did think the animation was great and I enjoyed spotting all the little details the animators had included in every frame.