Ocean's Eleven set a pretty high standard for heist movies where the scoundrel robbers manage to stay just a couple of steps ahead of everyone who is pursuing them. Now You See Me (2013) doesn't exceed Ocean's Eleven by any means, but it blends a heist movie with the idea of magic, which leaves us with a pretty creative and interesting movie.
Four street magicians, Atlas (Jesse Eisenberg), McKinney (Woody Harrelson), Reeves (Isla Fisher), and Wilder (Dave Franco) each answer a mysterious summons to an obscure address with secrets inside. A year later they are The Four Horsemen, big time stage illusionists who climax their sold out Las Vegas show by apparently robbing a bank on stage. This puts agents Dylan Rhodes (Mark Ruffalo) of the FBI and Alma Vargas (Mélanie Laurent) of Interpol on the case to find out how they did it. The mystery proves difficult to solve even with the insights of the professional illusion exposer, Thaddeus Bradley (Morgan Freeman). What follows is a bizarre investigation where nothing is what it seems with illusions, dark secrets, and hidden agendas galore as all involved are reminded of the great truth in the puzzle: the closer you look, the less you see.
In the opening scene we see each of the magicians showing off their skills and it really draws the audience in quickly. Atlas is doing a card trick on the streets and asks a young lady to pick any card from a deck while he flips through them himself. For the heck of it I picked a card I saw as the deck passed by the screen. The trick is finished by the selected card's suit and rank appearing in lights on the side of a large building. Interestingly enough, it was the card I picked out as well. That instantly made me think that professional stage magicians were consulted in the making of this movie, and that it wouldn't need a lot of CGI effects to impress the audience. Yes, there was some CGI used, but most of it was used in complex camera work, less so for the "magic tricks."
There is a great cast in Now You See Me. Woody Harrelson is great in most everything he's in. Jesse Eisenberg is a fast talking arrogant dweeb as usual, but he plays that sort of role well. The actors who play The Four Horsemen have distinctive differences in how they act when the characters are on and off stage, which is impressive. You can tell when the character is performing and when they are not, an indicator of good acting. I haven't seen Mark Ruffalo since The Avengers, he's a great Bruce Banner and he's a great FBI agent who is at his wits' end chasing stage performers who seem to possess actual magic abilities. We've even got Michael Caine and Morgan Freeman topping off the ensemble; even when they appear in subpar movies, their mere presence improves the overall quality of the film.
The script is not perfect by any means, but it remains engaging and fun. The dialogue was witty and flowed well. It seemed to think it was a bit deeper than it actually was. Rhodes keeps insisting that magic can't be real, but finds fewer and fewer reasons to believe that it is not. Alma also thinks that everything the Four Horsemen are doing is simply an illusion, but makes statements about how good it is to believe in something. That's nice, but I never really saw where they were trying to go with that idea. While most of the script is pretty good, the ending seems very out of sorts. It's as if the script writer finished writing the climax and kind of threw some random stuff in at the end because there needed to be a conclusion of some kind. You simply don't see the end coming at all. On the one hand, it sort of fits thematically; we're constantly told a magician distracts the audience from what's really happening. But there was next to nothing that even hints at what was "really happening" in the movie and from a film making standpoint, that made the ending seem unjustified, incongruous, and sloppy.
Now You See Me was a clever concept that was really fun to watch. It wasn't great; the script has some flaws, there's a baseless love interest, it doesn't resolve all of the questions it raises, and the ending comes out of nowhere. In spite of that, it has excellent cast, some outstanding visuals that don't rely heavily on CGI, and it coyly plays with the movie viewers. Some of the magic was debunked, but we never know for sure how much of the tricks were illusions or if it was actual magic. It evens out into what a summer movie should be: fun. While it is a fun movie, I'd wait for it on Blu-Ray; it's worth seeing, but not on the big screen. I also recommend seeing it twice. It's the kind of movie that's probably a bit more interesting when you know the end from the beginning.
Here's the trailer for Now You See Me:
Here's the trailer for Now You See Me:
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