Sepia-toned does not a period flick make, but this one did use it well to set the tone. The illusions are well crafted, though you’d struggle to believe they weren’t CGI. The setting isn’t entirely convincing either, but the underlying story could be set in any century (which is a complement).
Paul Giamatti is excellent in so many ways – his performance has just the right mix, and his character ultimately drives the story along. Ed Norton and Jessica Biel, despite being the leads, really don’t get lines or action, surprisingly – their characters are by and large almost static, introduced at the start of the movie and that’s more or less where they remain. Giamatti on the other hand moves along, going from innocent bystander to key protagonist, restrained subtext expressed carefully – he wants to be loyal to the prince, but he’s also fascinated by the Illusionist of the title and his awe-inspiring magic. Ultimately it’s him you’re cheering for – perhaps that is the intention after all? I’m not entirely certain, but The Police Chief of Vienna might not have been such a enticing title.