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Is Anybody There?



Set in a seaside English town in the '80s, this small heartfelt tale centers on the relationship between Edward, a 10-year-old boy whose parents run a retirement home, and Clarence, an aging magician and recent widower who is one of the new residents. Lonely and curious Edward has a habit of befriending the old folks only to search for their ghosts after they die. When Clarence comes in, both learn new life lessons as the older one comes to terms with his past while the younger boy finds reason for optimism as he faces the future.


Michael Caine is wonderful in a startling character role in which the 76-year-old movie icon allows himself to look older, drawn and beaten in parts of the film. Although the career of the two-time Oscar winner has been full of memorable performances ranging from Alfie in 1966 to The Dark Knight last year, it's this kind of realistic and moving portrayal that has marked the best of his work. and he's never been better than in this memorable portrait of a forgotten magician, who still manages to discover a couple of new tricks late in life. Matching him every step of the way is the engaging Bill Milner (Son of Rambow), who manages to go toe-to-toe with a screen legend without coming off as a too precocious of a child actor. He's haunting and extremely natural in a pivotal three-dimensional role that never seems forced. Helping matters immensely is a great ensemble of splendid British stars who play the other residents including the great Rosemary Harris, Leslie Phillips, Sylvia Syms and Peter Vaughan.


Director John Crowley (Boy A, Intermission) wisely lets his actors off the leash to create a chemistry that makes the modest story work its own kind of movie magic. Reminiscent in certain ways of the kind of British kitchen-sink dramas popular in the '60s, Crowley resists any opportunity to let directorial flash overwhelm this poignant character-driven tale, thereby letting it thrive on its own terms.


With such a superlative cast of British-acting royalty in the supporting roles, you almost wish there were a few more scenes showcasing these characters in the film's trim 91-minute running time.


Clarence rallies his talents to put on a magic show for the home's residents. Caine pulls this off seamlessly, and the sequence is pure delight.


This quaint film won't lose anything on TV screens and may be hard to find in wide release, so take the opportunity to see it any way you can.



Bottom Line rated this film 3 1/2 stars.