This is an intelligent, beautifully photographed and acted, and hugely satisfying romantic tale. Magic, love, and sleight-of-hand are at its core.
The narrator, a turn of the century Viennese police inspector, is a practical and realistic survivor of both bureaucracy and politics. He recognizes that the illusionist, a master magician, threatens the romantic and political fortunes of his master, the crown prince. The magician, on the other hand, is both fiercely intelligent and romantic. He and the inspector therefore make an oddly complementary pair on which to hang this story.
This is a movie where patience and attention are rewarded. It also succeeds in integrating magic acts into the story line in a most unusual fashion. We, the audience, know they are fake, created through special effects and motion picture trickery. Yet they are so well integrated into the plot and story line that we suspend belief long enough to experience the wonder and amazement the on-screen audience must be feeling. It is a satisfying illusion that extends throughout this movie.