FX - Murder By Illusion (1986)
The Movie Illusionist
Nobody cares about making movies about people any more. All they care about is special effects - Ellen
When "FX - Murder by Illusion" was released back in 1986, it was triumphed as something original, in reality it wasn't that original, but the way the plot is explored is very entertaining, especially for movie fans. The basis is a pretty standard detective movie, with the lead character, Rollie Tyler played by Bryan Brown, being framed for a murder, but placing the story in the realms of movie making and in particular, the world of the special effects expert, provides for numerous enlightening and very entertaining scenes.
In "FX - Murder by Illusion" Bryan brown plays Rollie Tyler a special effects expert on low budget horror flicks. Having been approached by a government agency for help, he agrees to stage the murder of a gangster who is about to testify before entering the witness protection program. But things get complicated when he is framed for the murder and ends up having to go on the run.
The opening sequence which comes across as a bloody killing in a bar, turns out to be a scene on the set of a movie, and sets the pace for the whole movie, as you are never entirely sure what is real and what is staged. This misdirection is one of the key elements to the success of making this thriller better than most from the 80s, as even after all these years it still manages to lead me into believing that something or someone is one thing, then in a later scene the truth is shown, and you are left thinking how did I miss that. Of course there are some gaping holes in the plot, but in reality you don't notice these unless you sit there and examine every word and character to any great length.
The main focus of "FX - Murder by Illusion" is the character of Rollie Tyler played by Bryan Brown, and is another of the key elements as to why this movie is better than others. The character of Tyler is an individual, totally different to the usual run of the mill characters which appear in thrillers. Although he becomes the victim, he never looses the strength of character which is built very quickly in the opening few scenes. The character is perfect for Bryan Brown, who has always played strong enigmatic characters in all his movies from The "Thorn Birds" to "Cocktail".
Opposite Brown is Brian Dennehy as cop Leo McCarthy, who manages to befriend Rollie whilst he is on the run. Although Dennehy plays the part really well, the character could have been pulled out of any detective thriller from the last 3 decades. You could pretty much guess the sort of lines he would deliver even before he opened his mouth. The same goes for all the other main characters, from Rollie's tomboy assistant to the nasty gangster played by Jerry Orbach. All of which are well played but you sit there thinking that you have seen them somewhere before, in another movie. The shining light is easily Bryan Brown and without him "FX - Murder by Illusion" would just fade into being another 80s detective thriller.
Directed by Robert Mandel, "FX - Murder by Illusion" was packed full of interesting and innovative techniques but sadly these are now run of the mill and seem somewhat inadequate compared to today's movies. Saying that, his ability to use the world of the special effects to tell the story but still leave some mysticism about it is truly ingenious. Especially as it allows for the movie to twist and turn at a reasonable pace and every now and then throwing you in a completely different direction. The soundtrack like the movie, is packed full of the synth sounds that were the main stay of movies in the late 80s and at times is highly distracting. But in general it fits nicely against each of the scenes.
What this all boils down to is that after 20 years "FX - Murder by Illusion" has sadly become very dated and compared to modern movies it looks like a straight to DVD release. But getting past the dated soundtrack and 80s fashions, the movie remains one very compelling thriller which still has enough about it to keep you gripped for its duration. A lot of this is down to the enigmatic acting of Bryan Brown who always manages to entertain with his tough characters and straight talking. On top of this, the insight into the world of special effects is highly interesting especially for a movie fan, but may be lost on someone who finds this less than appealing. Although I still enjoy this movie it will sadly not be everyone's cup of tea and although available on DVD, I would recommend to most people to either rent it or wait for it to appear on TV before buying it.
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