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Volume 72, Issue 9, Thursday, August 31, 2006

Life & Arts

'Illusionist' needs no sleight of hand

The Daily Cougar

The Illusionist, true to its title, easily deceives the mind with an intricate romantic mystery combined with puzzling magical effects.

From the producers of Academy Award winning films such as Crash and Sideways, comes the story of a stage magician's battle with Vienna's monarchy. 

At an early age, Eisenheim (Edward Norton), the son of a cabinet maker, falls in love with Duchess Sophie von Teschen (Jessica Biel), a clear violation of social propriety, and dazzles her with his magical talents. The two continue an illicit affair only to be torn from each other at an early age.

Eisenheim moves on with his life, performing some of his most entertaining demonstrations in a program in Vienna, all the while never forgetting his love for von Teschen.

One fateful night, the ruler of Vienna, Crown Prince Leopold (Rufus Sewell), attends Eisenheim's performance in an attempt to discover a way to reveal the truth behind his illusions. Leopold offers his fiancee -- von Teschen, of course -- to assist Eisenheim in a rather mind-boggling trick. The two former lovers lock eyes, instantly rekindling an old flame, which leads to a torrid affair.

Leopold, not to be deceived in any manner, continues his efforts to discover Eisenheim's secrets by inviting him to perform privately for himself and other members of high society. Unfortunately, Eisenheim commits a small faux pas when he embarrasses Vienna's finest onstage, inciting a constant struggle between Leopold's ambitious underling, Chief Inspector Uhl (Paul Giamatti), and himself.

Followed incessantly by Uhl, Eisenheim's affair with von Teschen is easily discovered, causing a string of events to unfold that not even the most trained investigator could predict. Murder, mystery, romance and trickery are at the forefront of this intriguing film, making it one of the best currently in theaters.

Biel, in one of her more serious roles to date, comes far from her days as 7th Heaven's bad seed Mary Camden, giving a rather impressive performance as a duchess with a mind of her own. Many women in such a position would never dare gamble their prestige for a commoner. Paired with the talented Norton, this dynamic duo creates the perfect team to dethrone the corrupt Leopold. Their love comes off convincingly and wins viewers' sympathy.

Giamatti also gives a believable performance as Uhl, who grows increasingly distrusting of his revered ruler. After von Teschen is murdered, Eisenheim is convinced of Leopold's guilt in the crime. Because Leopold has forced Eisenheim to shut down his former theater, Eisenheim rebuilds, hiring a new manager and enlisting the help of monks to relay his new trick of choice: bringing back the dead to speak to audiences. 

Obviously, he wishes to resurrect his love and out his nemesis, all with Uhl working overtime to learn both Eisenheim and Leopold's secrets.

A skilled special effects team creates a mesmerizing world that no audience can resist. Like characters in the film, viewers are left wondering how Eisenheim could even dream of performing some of the illusions he pulls off. 

Norton, Biel and Giamatti are the perfect team to bring this story to life, interacting with such ease that viewers may sometimes forget they are watching a film. 

And true to its name, The Illusionist may have viewers thinking they have figured everything out, but it's all an illusion.

The Illusionist

Rated: PG-13 for profanity and sexual situations
Starring: Edward Norton, Paul Giamatti, Jessica Biel
Yari Film Group Releasing

Verdict: Your eyes won't be deceived. This movie is good.

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