Magic has always been something that has fascinated me, from childhood, right through to the present day. The best part about it for me has always been trying to work out how the trick was done. The logical part of my brain knows it’s an illusion, its just smoke and mirrors, but there’s a part of my brain that gives up trying to figure out what’s happening and just go with it. Minor spoilers follow.
That brings me neatly to ‘Now You See Me’, by French director Louis Leterrier. There’s a lot of smoke and mirrors here for sure, but you’re going to get the best out of this film if you let that second part of your brain take over and enjoy the spectacle in front of you.
The plot starts simply enough, but like any good magic trick, goes a bit bonkers towards the end. Four magicians/illusionists, J. Daniel Atlas (Jesse Eisenberg), Henley Reeves (Isla Fisher), Jack Wilder (Dave Franco) and Merritt McKinney (Woody Harrelson) are brought together under mysterious circumstances, each brings a particular set of skills, smash cut and we’re a year ahead. These four magicians have been rebranded ‘The Four Horsemen’ by a mysterious third party and perform a spectacular trick which involves them robbing a bank. What unfolds is actually just a standard heist-movie, with some Ocean’s 11 style humour and a magical façade placed over the top.
I won’t spoil any more of the plot but it does devolve into a by the numbers heist film, complete with car chases and foot chases and lots and lots of money as the Horsemen are being pursued by FBI agent Dylan Rhodes (Mark Ruffalo) and Interpol agent Alma Dray (Mélanie Laurent).
The film starts off very strongly, in fact, the first two thirds are well paced, and built with enough spectacle to make even though most attention span deficient of us pay attention. There’s a strange, slightly disconnected sub-plot involing Morgan Freeman trying to expose the Four Horsemen’s tricks, and Michael Caine losing a lot of his money at the hand’s of the pesky magicians. It’s the final third where the films plot begins to spread thinly with entire scenes devoted to exposition and a twist that is not only completely non-nonsensical, it makes a lot of what comes before redundant.
This is the films biggest problem, it tries very hard and unfortunately for a film like this, takes itself quite seriously. What could have been a really strong ending is ruined for me by being too predictable, there’s many ways this could have ended that would have added more mystery or intrigue. That’s not to say the ending is bad, it’s just a let down.
The film is visually stunning, and Leterrier certainly continues the tradition he set with 2008’s Marvel Phase I movie, The Incredible Hulk and 2010’s epic Clash of the Titans. He keeps things moving at a nice clip and provides enough interesting set pieces and visually stunning elements to help us overlook the flaws with the plot. I will say I was slightly turned off by some of the more sci-fi elements that seemed slightly out of place. They all attempt to be grounded in real technology and practical effects, but some bits just come off as a bit too unrealistic.
The dialogue is all well written and is surprisingly witty. There’s definitely moments where you’ll have a big grin on your face as you realise the bare faced cheek of the Horsemen and just how they’re pulling it off, and the lines delivered by the characters all add to this charm.
Casting for this film was spot on. Ruffalo in particular steals most of the scenes he’s in, as he did in The Avenger’s. His delivery for each line is great and he gives the film a bit more grounding. The Four Horsemen themselves are all played brilliantly, even if the actors didn’t appear to have much to work with. A lot of the characters in this film are written paper-thin with next to no back story given besides a quick montage/introduction of each of them at the beginning of the movie.
The supporting cast all do well, even if, once again, the characters are too thinly written for us to really get too involved. Morgan Freeman as the wise ex-magician turned trick exposer Thaddeus Bradley is a good addition and serves to show us as an audience how the Horsemen are pulling off their tricks (hint: it isn’t magic), though really this is just dressed up exposition. Michael Caine also has a great turn as The Four Horsemen’s financial backer who seem’s to be putting on these shows.
Now You See Me is worth a watch, if only for the great visuals and set pieces. It has a strong cast. It’s very cool, but just don’t go in expecting something quite to the calibre of Ocean’s 11 and you’ll be fine.