The Illusionist is a great film filled with enchantment, mystery, and real emotion. Edward Norton delivers a stunning portrayal of Eisenheim, a magician who has captured the attention of audiences throughout Europe with his masterful illusions and sleight-of-hand. Jessica Biel co-stars as Sophie, and Paul Giamatti is an absolute delight as Inspector Uhl.
The movie is narrated by Inspector Uhl throughout, and that device — so much like Sherlock Holmes's Watson — is at once deceptively trustworthy and likable. Everything we see and hear is filtered through Uhl's perceptions and own involvement with the principal cast.
The movie opens up with Eisenheim performing one of his nightly routines, and Norton is at his seductive best in this opening. His voice, his mannerisms, and his look drew me in and put me in one of those seats. I was astonished to watch what he did.
But the story only began there. It quickly segued back into Eisenheim's childhood, and his adolescent romance with Sophie. According to Uhl's account, Eisenheim was the son of a carpenter who barely made ends meet. Then one day the boy met a magician who showed him some magic tricks. Seized by what he had seen, the boy taught himself magic, created tricks, and learned from anyone who knew anything.
During that time, he met Sophie. The children played together, but Sophie's parents found out and took her away, telling the boy he wasn't good enough for her.
Now, in Vienna, Eisenheim and Sophie's paths have crossed again, and they find that the love they had for each other has never wavered. I have to admit, I'm a sucker for a love story, and this one was so well done it just takes the breath way.
Part of what makes The Illusionist work so well is the period piece costumes and sets. Even the camera work, with its sepia tones and use of what looks like natural lighting, is beautiful. The movie made me feel I was back during those times, watching the story unfold.
Of course, for a love story like this to work properly, there has to be a villain. Rufus Sewell play Crown Prince Leopold, the man who desires Sophie's hand in marriage. Leopold also has a reputation for abusing — and perhaps murdering — the women in his life.
To tell anything further would be a crime. The Illusionist is an elegant story that has fascinating twists and turns, an elegant sense of pacing, and a story that is timeless.