When Orson Welles arrives in Rome in 1948 for the lead in the Cinecittà swashbuckler ‘Black Magic’, his Hollywood career is at an impasse and his marriage to Rita Hayworth over. When a bit-part player expires on set, it seems like another darn thing, but since the slumming star has his eye on the dead man’s alluring stepdaughter, he starts asking questions… and soon finds himself dodging assassins in conspiracy territory as the run-up to post-war elections gets serious.
A suitably Wellesian set-up for a suitably Wellesian tale of intrigue, and if one’s pulse doesn’t initially leap at the prospect of Oscar Wilde adaptor and ‘St Trinian’s’ director Oliver Parker at the helm, it’s pleasing to report that he does a creditable job of marshalling atmosphere and intrigue with a dash of vintage style – no mean feat on a tight budget and locations divided between Serbia and the Isle of Man.
His ace, of course, is Danny Huston, who’s completely convincing as Welles. He’s a performer on the grand scale, delivering big-star-in-a-wee-picture charisma, even though the Italian political context is hardly persuasive motivation. In the circumstances, Christopher Walken is respectfully subdued as the US State Department’s man on the ground, while Paz Vega provides just enough Latinate allure to keep Huston and the viewer alert.
And if it’s perhaps short of a distinct thematic through-line, the story’s mazy path finds time to ponder the rewards and the limits of the filmmaker’s art in precarious surroundings, pointed with wry wit and evident sincerity. For all its flaws, it’s a movie-lover’s movie, and clear evidence that Parker should push himself a bit more often.