It's fitting that Michael Caine — Sir Michael since the queen wisely knighted him in 2000 — is cast here as a magician. Caine's acting wizardry should be taught at Hogwarts. Alfie, Sleuth, The Man Who Would Be King, Dressed to Kill, Educating Rita, Hannah and Her Sisters, The Cider House Rules, The Quiet American, The Dark Knight. I could go on. Caine sure does.
Now, at 76, he's using the lessons of a long career to show how it's done in Is Anybody There? Oddly enough, Caine's magician — the Amazing Clarence — is losing his gifts. Sleight of hand doesn't work so well when your hands (and memory) are shaky. And so, in 1987, widower Clarence drives his van to an English retirement home, where time weighs heavily, even on the youngish couple (David Morrissey and Anne-Marie Duff) running the place. Their 10-year-old son, Edward (a very fine Bill Milner), is so obsessed with death, he tapes last gasps of guests. It's a setup for life lessons. Director John Crowley (Boy A) doesn't dodge the gooey traps in the script by Peter Harness (writing from his own experiences). But Caine does. Blending humor and heartbreak in a performance that makes a small movie a richly satisfying one, Caine truly is magic.