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Wednesday, May 21, 2008

THE ILLUSIONIST (2006)

Unlike his mysterious protagonist, scripter/helmer Neil Burger can’t quite pull off his dramatic illusion, stooping to an all-is-revealed cobbled montage to wrap up this turn-of-the-century Viennese trifle. The main fun lies in soaking up the handsome period production and watching the old-fashioned star turns from Edward Norton (as the illusionist) and Rufus Sewell (as the hedonistic Crown Prince) who put on a ham acting duel to the death: staring off to the side in conversation, pursing their lips and even reviving that old fave: the slow deliberate blink. Take that, RADA! Jessica Biel makes an acceptable trophy, but Paul Giamatti hasn’t got the screen presence needed to make us believe we haven’t already figured out the narrative’s final trick. Maybe if Edward G. Robinson had loaned him a cigar . . .?

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