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The Illusionist

A not so magical story
By BRETT MICHEL  |  February 20, 2007
2.0 2.0 Stars

What is it about magicians that they’re able to conjure the most stunningly attractive women, only to have them disappear? David Copperfield was engaged for a time to Claudia Schiffer, and now we have master illusionist Eisenheim (Edward Norton) and Princess Sophie (Jessica Biel), two turn-of-the-century lovers who enjoy a forbidden tryst in gas-lit Vienna. (Prague locations stand in beautifully.) And what of filmmakers who flirt with good source material (in this case an enchanting short story by Pulitzer-winning author Steven Millhauser) only to freight it with Hollywood romance? Also unnecessary is the addition of Prince Leopold (Rufus Sewell), a petty ruler threatened by Eisenheim’s blurring of reality and illusion. Norton and Paul Giamatti (as the film’s narrator, Police Inspector Uhl) perform wonders, but writer/director Neil Burger (Interview with the Assassin) ruins the magic, exposing all of his story’s tricks by the end.

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