In fin-de-sicle Vienna, celebrated conjurer and master of illusion Eisenheim (Norton) has captured the imagination of the city's theatergoers, but odious Crown Prince Leopold (Sewell) feels his magical power is a threat, and orders Chief Inspector Uhl (Giamatti) to shut him down. Complicating matters is Leopold's fiance, Duchess Sophie (Biel), a childhood paramour of Eisenheim's who feels herself falling under his spell once again.
Adapted from a Steven Millhauser story and set to a lilting score by Philip Glass, Neil Burger's fanciful tale of love and deception in turn-of-the-century Europe is an intriguing, highly entertaining art-house gem with Hollywood-style production values. Norton is appropriately mystical and enigmatic, Biel is ravishing, and Giamatti holds it all together with a fine performance as the inspector whose respect for Eisenheim nearly outweighs his official duty. Drenched in sepia tones that accentuate the Victorian atmosphere, "The Illusionist" is a murderous bluff that never shows its hand — until the final curtain.