Eisenheim is more than just a magician in a new movie that recreates Vienna of 100 years ago.
The theater manager announces to his audience, "From the furthest corners of the world where the dark arts still hold sway, I present to you a man that has unlocked these mysteries. Tonight, ….I give you Eisenheim!!!"
Eisenheim is a mind-bending magician who takes early 20th-century Vienna by storm.
Prince Leopold is the heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne. He not only questions Eisenheim's gifts. He also is threatened by the magician's growing fame.
"Eisenheim, as far as he's concerned, represents everything that is old-fashioned and wrong about the way his countrymen think," says actor Rufus Sewell who interprets the authoritarian Prince Leopold.
"And as Eisenheim gets more and more popular, he sees him striking a chord with the country and the more a chord that strikes with the country, the further he [Leopold] becomes from actually gaining power."
The growing antagonism between the two men transcends politics. Both are fiercely intelligent and charismatic. They vie for the same woman -- Leopold through rank and social status, Eisenheim out of love.
She is Duchess Sophie von Teschen, played by actress Jessica Biel. "Sophie and Eisenheim were childhood friends. Then we get separated, and we don't see each other for a long time. And when you see me again in the film for the first time, we're just kind of getting to know each other again. Seeing each other for the first time in ten years or so."
With her classic beauty, intricate costumes, and memorable performance, Jessica Biel is transformed into a larger-than-life Hungarian aristocrat.
But the film's driving forces are actors Ed Norton and Paul Giamatti. Norton is commanding in his role as the enigmatic magician. Giamatti interprets police inspector Uhl, a clever and wiry man torn between his allegiance to Prince Leopold and his fascination with the gifted illusionist.
"The effect he has on most people in this kind of fascistic world is that he kind of frees them up,” says Giamatti. “There is something about him that sparks these people's imaginations and for that reason is threatening to the people in power. Something about that makes my character sympathetic to him."
"Eisenheim, I don't want to arrest you,” says the inspector. “I am a cynical man, God knows. But, If your manifestations are somehow real, and even I am willing to admit that you are a very special person, and if it's a trick, then it's equally impressive. Either way, you have a gift. So, don't make me put you in jail. Promise me you won't do it again."
Eisenheim replies, "I promise you will enjoy this next show."
This is a luxurious period film, complete with genuine turn-of-the-century illusions and a captivating soundtrack. Director Neil Berger offers a rich visual experience without losing sight of the riveting plot and complex characters. Add to that the movie's unexpected twists and you have sheer magic.