The Illusionist

Director: Neil Burger

Cast: Edward Norton, Jessica Biel, Paul Giamatti, Rufus Sewell, Eddie Marsan, Jake Wood, Tom Fisher, Aaron Johnson, Eleanor Tomlinson, Karl Johnson, Vincent Franklin, Nicholas Blane

Inspector Uhl (Giamatti) becomes gradually enmeshed in the affairs of Prince Leopold (Sewell), his intended bride, Sophie von Teschen (Biel), and the illusionist Eisenheim (Norton). The country boy who becomes Eisenheim (Aaron Johnson) meets Sophie as a young girl (Tomlinson). Despite their class differences (he is the son of a cabinetmaker and she is a young countess) they develop a close friendship that is cut short by Sophie’s aristocratic guardians. The two are separated until, years later, Eisenheim starts performing at a Vienna theater that Leopold and Sophie attend. Josef Fischer (Marsan) is the impresario that introduces Eisenheim as someone who will demonstrate how nature’s laws may be bent. Eisenheim has the inner power and self-assurance of a consummate magician. He is also a man deeply in love. Sophie has natural beauty, and projects a feeling of innocent wonder that grows to resolute affection and then defiant love. Prince Leopold displays a mixture of ardent love, political ambition, and well-mannered cruelty. Inspector Uhl is tasked by Prince Leopold to investigate and then harass Eisenheim, and becomes a reluctant admirer of the master magician. The film is a love story and a mystery with a background involving Austrian affairs of state, but its central theme is the art of the illusionist. Eisenheim’s skill is magic, and he displays the spellbinding stage effects of the best magicians. Dick Pope’s cinematography captures the light and darkness of 19th century Vienna and the Austrian countryside. The story develops to blend romance with history and danger, and it presents puzzles that, when resolved, lead to a feeling of astonished delight. The special effects, by Vulcan Effects, add a quality of obscure immediacy to the film’s mood. Based on the story Eisenheim the Illusionist by Steven Millhauser.

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