Even at five hours, the Pusher trilogy isn’t a major epic. It’s more like a collection of first-person short stories, with each protagonist on a long (I mean long) downward spiral. But they’re fascinatingly different kinds of desperadoes, each entangled by a way of life that leaves few men standing. Tonny has respect tattooed on the back of his shaved head, but with a crime-boss dad who publicly brands him a loser and an accidental—and defenseless—baby son, he’s a study in powerlessness. And the deadly Milo stands revealed as an almost lovable stumblebum: an enthusiastically terrible cook who gives his goons food poisoning and finds himself with two dead rivals and no one to help cut them up.
Edward Norton has the perfect smirky elegance to play a turn-of-the-century magician in the seductive melodrama The Illusionist, set in Vienna in that marvelous era when electricity was newly harnessed and stage machinery had a whiff of the supernatural. Is the title a fake-out? Can this showman actually commune with the dead? The ending dispels a lot of the magic, but the silent-movie palette is gorgeous, and the film is worth seeing for the inspired hamming of Paul Giamatti as Vienna’s chief inspector, whose plummy tones made me sure I could hear the ghost of James Mason cackling.