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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