This film makes for pretty good popcorn entertainment – and (almost) demonstrates that Hollywood movies can still entrance, even in the age of frantic blockbusters stuffed full with hollow eye candy.
In Now You See Me, four extremely-talented street magicians – the renowned J. Daniel Atlas (Jesse Eisenberg) and his former assistant-turned illusionist Henley Reeves (Isla Fisher) – in addition to up-and-comer Jack Wilder (Dave Franco) and the mind-reader/hypnotist Merritt McKinney (Woody Harrelson) – form a daredevil group known as The Four Horsemen. However, one of their stunts at a Las Vegas performance lands them in hot water with the authorities – when it seems that the four tricksters literally robbed a Parisian bank in the middle of their show
FBI agent Dylan Rhodes (Mark Ruffalo) is then assigned to the case – alongside new-to-the-field Interpol detective Alma Dray (Mélanie Laurent) – but the duo fail to find a shred of material evidence that connects the Four Horsemen to the crime in question. But is this just the warm-up act for these masters of deception? And what does Thaddeus Bradley (Morgan Freeman) – a former magician who has since devoted his life to debunking professional illusionists – know about these four mysterious artists that he isn’t telling everybody else?
Now You See Me was directed by Louis Leterrier, the filmmaker responsible for the European pop-art hit The Transporter - as well as The Incredible Hulk and the Clash of the Titans remake. The film’s magician caper/heist storyline – which was engineered by Boaz Yakin (Prince of Persia) and relative newcomer Edward Ricourt – works in unison with Leterrier’s fine knowledge of cinematic technique. This gives rise to an interesting subtext about the enduring “magic” of movies, the purpose of art as entertainment, and the heightened importance of creative integrity in an age where cynical skepticism sells.
The final movie result is a fun and exhilarating viewing experience, which features a charismatic band of actors and actresses – with good screen chemistry – to help and better communicate that underlying message. Yet, Now You See Me falls short of being a majestic pop-art statement, as the film’s action sequences and central set pieces aren’t executed with quite enough finesse; similarly, the basic attempts to spin a deeper mythology feels too much like an afterthought (or, rather, sequel fodder). Nonetheless, this film makes for pretty good popcorn entertainment – and (almost) demonstrates that Hollywood movies can still entrance, even in the age of frantic blockbusters stuffed full with hollow eye candy.
Yakin and Ricourt wrote the Now You See Me script with Ed Solomon (Men in Black, Charlie’s Angels) and – similar to Yakin’s screenplay for the Jason Statham thriller Safe - the film’s narrative boils down to a cat and mouse game. The various twists and turns along the way probably don’t hold up perfectly under close-scrutiny – nor do they completely pull the blind over your eyes – but the guessing contest is fun to participate in on the way. Similarly, the inevitable “final reveal” is satisfying and doesn’t have to scramble to bring greater significance to the proceedings; instead, it caps off ideas and themes that are developed throughout the course of the story.
As mentioned before, there’s not a weak link in the film’s cast. Ruffalo and Laurent are engaging as the protagonists, and their odd couple clash of wills – bumbling pessimism vs. steely optimism – is enjoyable to watch. Similarly, there’s fun to be had watching Michael Caine portray Arthur Tressler – who is the Four Horsemen’s rich sponsor – and Freeman as Thaddeus. Indeed, both of these seasoned Oscar-winners get to subvert expectations, by playing older gentlemen who are neither as admirable nor thoughtful as audiences have grown accustomed to seeing them be onscreen.
The Four Horsemen, by comparison, are not equally satisfying as fully-realized characters on the surface – nor as metaphorical embodiments of certain emotional qualities – despite likable performances by the cast (Harrelson, in particular, is a stand-out). That’s partly because the story behind their actions (as was mentioned before) isn’t fleshed out as well as it could’ve been.
However, there’s a just reason for this storytelling discrepancy; thing is, Leterrier’s filmmaking tactics – which include effective trick editing and lively camerawork that produces blurry Impressionistic visuals (like a magician waving their hands as distraction) – are the cinematic elements that are truly meant to illustrate the idea of “magic,” not so much the imaginative plot components or (for the most part, bare-bones) CGI effects. Here, characterization and deeper meaning is expressed foremost through action.
Because of that, Now You See Me isn’t so much a character study – one set in the world of magicians – as Christopher Nolan’s The Prestige; instead, it approaches related subject matter from a very different angle and proves equally successful in certain regards. Leterrier’s film trades in the nihilism of The Prestige – in favor of hopefulness – and shows how referencing “movie magic” can be captivating; that is, without either coming off as self-congratulatory or waxing nostalgic about film artistry in an on-the-nose manner.
That’s to say: if you’re interested in a suave demonstration of cinematic showmanship (no more, but no less) via a thrill-ride movie featuring devious (yet charming) magic performers, then you might want to consider giving this one a look.
If you’re still on the fence about Now You See Me, check out the trailer below:
Now You See Me is 116 minutes long and Rated PG-13 for language, some action and sexual content. Now playing in theaters around the U.S.
Let us know what you thought of the film in the comment section below. If you’ve seen the movie and want to discuss details about the film without worrying about spoiling it for those who haven’t seen it, please head over to our Now You See Me spoilers discussion.