The last magic trick that I was ever really impressed with was when The Joker made a pencil disappear into the deep eye socket of some stooge who thought he could take on The Joker. To me it was a clever and brutal trick, one that is still surprising time after time, but really it cemented the wonders of a solid magic trick. The real magic these days is in Hollywood’s ability to continuously make desperate movie pitches to audiences in the basest way possible.
“They are magicians who pull off high profile bank heists!” sounds like an elevator pitch to an executive who is on his way to oversee the next remake/reboot/sequel/franchise movie, so there had to be some magic involved in getting a movie like Now You See Me made and released during the summer of remakes, reboots, sequels and franchises. Well a little bit of sleight of hand, some misdirection, multiple assistants and players, and of course, the impossible trick somehow makes this comedy/action/heist movie feel like a grand performance. Sorry folks for all the magic metaphors and verbiage. I can’t help myself.
Now You See Me stars probably the most impressive cast line-up this year, so pay close attention to the players because, like any good magic trick, it’s all about who is involved and what their roles are. The film stars Jesse Eisenberg as J. Daniel Atlas, Woody Harrelson as Merritt McKinney, Isla Fisher as Henley Reeves, and Dave Franco as Jack Wilder, who are all professional/amateur magicians. Atlas is your Cris Angel street performer, McKinney as a mentalist, Henley as an assistant turned magician and Wilder as your run of the mill street performer/grifter. Together they form the amazing group “The Four Horsemen” who perform on stage for Arthur Tressler (Michael Caine) and conduct live bank heists during their shows. This catches the attention of FBI agent Dylan Rhodes (Mark Ruffalo) and Interpol Agent Alma Dray (Melanie Laurent) who are on the case to figure out how they did the trick, along with the help of magic debunker Thaddeus Bradley played by Morgan Freeman. Also rapper/actor Common is in this movie, so big ups to him.
The mastermind behind this magician heist flick is none other than Louis Leterrier, the same guy who worked his magic and turned Jason Statham into the star that he is with his Transporter movies. This movie might be his second greatest trick; first one being turning Statham into what he is today, with the release of Now You See Me. A fantastic, fun, entertaining and worthwhile ensemble flick, it feels as if we are watching a 2 hour long magic trick with a big reveal toward the end of the movie, and that is all you can ask in this sort of flick. The movie starts off rather strong, with each magician showing off their skills, followed by a cryptic gathering of the group where it then jumps into their first stage show where the characters begin a series of robberies to the delight of the audience. We watch it unfold on screen, wondering how it is pulled off and then given the rundown on the trick by Freeman’s character. It never leaves the audience in the dark, thanks to a script that plays out as a long trick, keeping the audience one step behind the stories unfolding. It’s a wonderful show, one that has the audience continuously guessing the what and the how of the heist, all the while interjecting a little levity into the film with some witty banter here and there.
The strength of the film comes from the fast paced action from Leterrier. He manages to keep the pace moving swiftly enough to distract the audience from some of the rough edges of the film, namely the dialogue and chemistry of the ensemble cast. From flashy stage magic, heavy use of CGI, a car chase scene and fight sequence that utilizes some crafty magic, it has enough misdirection to keep you entertained which is needed, as I talk about some of the issues of Now You See Me.
One of the biggest issues I have with the movie is the interaction between the principal members of The Four Horsemen and between Ruffalo and Laurent. Knowing that each of the members of the group are these individualistic magicians that are working together with some tacit knowledge of one another, there isn’t a lot of tension or real sizzle of chemistry happening there. It always seems as if they are in performance mode and never really letting the audience see a more intimate interaction amongst the thieving group, but rather just some light ribbing to show they are all pals and in it together till the end. I never got a sense of something more between each member of the group other than the surface items of long glances, hand holding, and the bringing up of Atlas and Henley’s past. Secondly is the relationship between Ruffalo and Laurent, which is a shoehorned in love story if there ever was one, especially seeing the ending of the movie. None of it really makes sense as to why one would fall for the other as they are at odds with each other throughout most of the film, but I guess no one can really resist the elegant charms and accent of Melanie Laurent. It all seems and feels forced, like there has to be a love story when it doesn’t require one to even begin with.
Dialogue is also a nitpicky thing to discuss, but the entirety of the dialogue for the magicians in the movie have them speaking as if they are constantly performing in front of an audience. The lines feel a bit over the top, abrupt and more showmanship than anything else. Heck even when they aren’t performing on stage, they are still talking to one another as if they are presenting their next trick. Again, nitpicky and in the grand scheme of things, it gets washed away quickly with the fast pace of the film.
The Prestige (Hey another magic film reference) of Now You See Me comes from the unfolding of the tricks and overall structure of the story. Sure there isn’t a lot to it all, but the misdirection and reveals of the plot does make it enjoyable to be absorbed into the flick. This is by far and away one of Leterrier’s better films, managing to assemble an impressive cast and keeping the pace of the film going swiftly with fights, chases and a lot of magic. The actors in the film do shine in their respective rights, namely the members of the Four Horsemen each bring a little something wonderful to their roles with each being a standout. Eisenberg and Harrelson were by far my favorites of the film, especially Woody turning in another comedic role.
I feel that this is going to be a sleeper hit of the summer, one where it will find its audience later on but with juggernaut blockbusters coming out like clockwork, something a bit more fun and low key might be the greatest trick of all.
Rating: 4 rabbits out of a hat out of 5
By Nick Guzman