I shan't give away the ending, but Jon Carroll thinks [not a spoiler] it is obvious and not the novel twist he was hoping for. I wrote him:
Loved the column. However, I don't know about you, but I have seen Merry Wives of Windsor at least 15 times. Why do I keep going back to a play that I have almost memorized? It's the journey, not the destination. Of course the Illusionist rips off [Shakespeare]; that's been done for about 400 years now--sometimes more deftly than here. At least the filmmakers had the decency to tip us off with some subtlety. One attends such a work for the performance, and because in art as in life (as in hiking), it is not about the destination, it is about the journey.
Well, if that's not backing into a review, I don't know what is. Ed Norton, once again, turns in a sterling performance, as does Paul Giamati. The cinematography in this period piece is lush and convincing. A young man falls for a girl whose family will not allow their friendship. He disappears for 15 years, travelling the world and learning to become a first class illusionist/magician. He returns to Vienna just before her marriage to the Crown Prince. The relentless policeman, Giamati, is under orders to shut him down, but has the decency not to do so without an excuse.
Magic tricks in a movie made during the CGI era, of course, are pointless, but as it happens the movie is not about the little illusions; it is about the big ones in plain site. Clever, entertaining, well-acted and nice to look at. Whew!