Basically The Illusionist is about the many things that come between us and reality. It’s about life, love and truth. It’s about evil. And it’s about magic spelt with a capital M.

It’s set in turn-of-the-century Vienna and the beautiful photography in lush golds and greens is in fact, another character in the The Illusionist.

My telephonic friend Mr Kunwar of Bazaar International (4427097), who brings fine magazines from all over the world to Nepal, urged me to get The Hollywood Reporter in which it was revealed that over 50 films were trying for Oscar’s different categories including The Illusionist in the category of Best Actor with Edward Norton and Paul Giamatti.

Like me, The Illusionist draws audiences in the movie, and we who are watching it, into tricks, magic and perhaps the supernatural. There are two movies about magicians this year and we await The Prestige to see how it fares against The Illusionist.

Says critic Kit Bowen, “It starts at the turn of the century, when mysterious stage magician Eisenheim (Norton) arrives in Vienna and begins performing his astounding illusions. He arouses not only the curiosity of the people, who believe he has otherworldly powers, but of the ruthless Crown Prince Leopold (Rufus Sewell), an unsavoury fellow who’d like to prove the man a fraud, especially after he witnesses a budding attraction between his beautiful fiancé, Sophie von Teschen (Jessica Biel), and the magician. What Leopold doesn’t know is that Eisenheim and Sophie were once childhood sweethearts. Now it’s up to Vienna’s shrewd Chief Inspector Uhl (Paul Giamatti) to uncover the truth, charged by Leopold to intensify his efforts to expose Eisenheim. With

Uhl doggedly pursuing

the man behind the magician, Eisenheim prepares to execute his greatest illusion yet.

The stars of The Illusionist all shine. Yes, even Biel, who may not be of the same calibre as her cast mates but certainly doesn’t embarrass herself either as the aristocratic Sophie with a feisty spirit. Norton, who has always prided himself on choosing his projects wisely, is sad and wonderful as The Illusionist’s regal and masterful purveyor of chimera. Oscar could come calling. Gold might also be in Giamatti’s horizon, who seems unable to turn in a sour performance in whatever he does. As the steadfast policeman Uhl, Giamatti takes the brilliantly juicy part and runs with it. He really comes alive when trying to figure out Eisenheim’s trickery but is continually baffled by it at the same time.

The reason The Illusionist feels like an independent film, despite its opulent art direction and period costumes, is because writer/director Neil Burger is a newbie. And it’s obvious the story is something close to his heart. Taken from a short story called Eisenheim The Illusionist, by Pullitzer Prize winner Steven Millhauser, Burger has cleverly interwoven an intimate murder mystery with a grand and romantic saga of two lovers, torn apart by class struggles, all within the frame work of magic.”

The last word goes to Bill Gallo of the very very critical Villagevoice who says, “Beautifully acted and handsomely mounted, this gorgeous period piece is an intelligent and intriguing exploration of ‘the dark arts’ — less dependent on mere hocus-pocus than on the convincing journey of the soul undertaken by its hero.”