All is not as it appears as illusions, trickery and even deceased spirits take center stage in the movie The Illusionist.
As children, the Duchess Sophie befriends the son of a local cabinetmaker. But the disparity in their social standings makes the friendship forbidden. Fifteen years later, the two adults are unexpectedly reunited in the Austrian city of Vienna.
Eisenheim (Edward Norton), now a world famous magician, entertains a growing following of patrons in a local theater. Disturbed by the mounting popularity of the magician, Crown Prince Leopold (Rufus Sewell) attends one of the performances with the intention of discrediting the conjurer. Sophie (Jessica Beil), who is soon to be betrothed to the Crown Prince, attends with him and is sent to the stage by Leopold when Eisenheim asks for an audience volunteer. There she recognizes her long-lost love and their affair is rekindled.
Infuriated by the whispers of the illicit liaison, Leopold calls in Chief Inspector Uhl (Paul Giamatti). The prince, known for his irrational demands and the ill treatment of his underlings, commands Uhl to expose the deception behind Eisenheim's acts. However, Uhl soon finds himself caught between carrying out the wishes of the corrupt royal and his own growing awe for Eisenheim as the illusionist's shows become more complicated and dark.
Set in the early 1900's, this tale of social clashes and the supernatural has depictions of a bloody murder, suicide, heated fury and a passionate sexual encounter between an unmarried couple. Some parents may also be concerned with the illusions of spirits being recalled from the other side and Leopold's erratic behavior, which is often fueled by his reliance on alcohol.
The film offers commendable performances, striking cinematography and an intriguing storyline. Yet the ability to perform magic seems to allow consequences to be sidestepped. While it's a tenuous line between reality and fantasy, it's evident that illusions, if left unchecked, quickly digress from harmless amusements to outright deceit.