The Illusionist

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3 stars
This is an entertaining little gem of a movie: dark, atmospheric and romantic. It is set in the decadent world of Imperial Vienna at the beginning of the twentieth century. Eisenheim the Illusionist (Edward Norton) is a stage magician who creates illusions of such marvelous subtlety and beauty that most members of his audience are convinced that he must really have supernatural powers.

But Eisenheim, a mere commoner, has fallen in love with the beautiful Sophie (Jessica Biel), a duchess who is the intended bride of a powerful and ruthless prince (Rufus Sewell). Obviously nothing good can come of this. Chief Inspector Uhl (Paul Giamatti), who is in the pay of the prince, warns Eisenheim to stay away, and sends his agents to tail both Eisenheim and Sophie.

The story turns into a tale of jealousy and revenge, corruption and deception. I enjoyed it very much, but I have a couple of caveats.

First, no one should treat this as accurate history at any level. (In particular, I don’t think Austria ever had a “Crown Prince Leopold”.)

Second, the movie tries to remain ambiguous about whether Eisenheim really has supernatural powers. However I don’t see any non-supernatural way that the events at the end of the movie could possibly happen.