The Illusionist

Rated 4.0

In turn-of-the-century Vienna, a humbly born magician (Edward Norton, invitingly remote) makes enough of a name for himself to threaten the stability of the Austro-Hungarian empire. For one thing, the love of his life (Jessica Biel, improbably regal) happens to be the crown prince’s future wife. The prince (Rufus Sewell, precisely haughty) appoints an opportunistic, inquisitive police inspector (Paul Giamatti, just plain great) to debunk and shut the illusionist down. Adapting a short story by Steven Millhauser, writer-director Neil Burger has assembled a first-rate group of performers, and their apparent shared belief in the magic of movies is highly contagious. Burger luxuriates in sensual textures, and his schmaltz-sprinkled solemnity inevitably gives way to romantic, otherworldly mystery—which is helped along nicely by Philip Glass’ undulating score. All told, the movie comes off as unsurprising but satisfying, like an elaborate and well-played trick.