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Now You See Me (2013)

Now-You-See-Me-2013-DIRECTOR: Louis Letterier

CAST: Jesse Eisenberg, Woody Harrelson, Mark Ruffalo, Isla Fisher, Dave Franco, Melanie Laurent, Morgan Freeman, Michael Caine, Common

REVIEW:

Now You See Me is a fast-paced, whizz-bang caper that, like its magician characters, misdirects from some flimsy plot holes with quick-moving panache.  It’s not terribly deep or substantial, but it serves up two hours of compulsive entertainment and a few twists and turns along the way. Fans of the likes of Ocean’s Eleven might find Now You See Me to their liking.

Perfectionist, control freak stage showman Daniel Atlas (Jesse Eisenberg), has-been hypnotist Merritt McKinney (Woody Harrelson), Atlas’ former assistant and escape artist Henley Reeves (Isla Fisher), and con man and small-time magician Jack Wilder (Dave Franco) are independent two-bit tricksters until they are brought together by mysterious forces.  A year later, financed by wealthy tycoon Arthur Tressler (Michael Caine), they are the sensation of Vegas in an act dubbed “The Four Horsemen”.  For their first stunt, they seemingly somehow rob a Paris bank while simultaneously standing in front of an audience of hundreds on a Vegas stage.  This gets them the attention of FBI detective Dylan Rhodes (Mark Ruffalo), Interpol agent Alma Dray (Melanie Laurent), and Thaddeus Bradley (Morgan Freeman), who has made a lucrative television career out of debunking magicians.  For the Horsemen, however, this is only act one of three, and their pursuers are getting drawn into a tangled web as the magic tricks and robberies only grow more brazen and audacious.  Meanwhile, Rhodes begins to suspect an unseen mastermind who is directing the Horsemen from behind the scenes.

Now You See Me isn’t quite as tongue-in-cheek as Ocean’s Eleven, but it’s not taking itself too seriously either.  There are only a couple real action scenes, but the pace moves briskly and challenges the audience to keep up.  The movie isn’t as complicated as The Prestige, but a level of attention is required.  One of the movie’s repeated taglines is “the closer you look, the less you see”, and some of the most fascinating moments are reconstructions of scenes we’ve already seen, only where we now come to understand what really happened.  The climactic twist and “big reveal” genuinely surprised me, which is a bit refreshing when too many “surprise twists” in films are easy to see coming.   The climax is a little flimsy, with one character’s comeuppance being undeservedly extreme, and the mastermind’s motives being a little flimsy, but like many heist capers, the fun is in the journey, not the destination, and neither flaw is enough to ruin the movie.  There’s a running theme about how showmen must continually up the ante to keep their momentum going, and are in a constant battle to outdo themselves with each stunt (social commentary about Hollywood itself?).  Some plot elements are a little shaky when you really start to think about them, but the movie does an effective job of misdirecting from its own plot holes, and they’re not so glaring or huge that they really detract from the experience.  Now You See Me might not be airtight, but it has more wit and cleverness than plenty of films can boast.  For director Louis Letterier, this is a more satisfying entry on his filmography than The Incredible Hulk or his remake of Clash of the Titans.  Those two wallowed in depressing mediocrity.  Letterier directs with more energy here, and also seems more adept at action sequences.  Maybe he’s grown as a director, or maybe the material just suits him better.  Either way, it’s a step in the right direction.

now-you-see-me-opening-sequence-05292013-152030This is not an actor’s movie, but there are some nice moments.  Jesse Eisenberg, hot off his Oscar-nominated portrayal of Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg in The Social Network and seeming to be on his way to becoming Hollywood’s go-to guy for obnoxious boy geniuses, plays Atlas as a manic perfectionist who knows he’s the smartest man in the room and enjoys making sure everyone else knows it too.  His interrogation room scene with Dylan and Alma is one of the movie’s highlights.  Mark Ruffalo fills out the stock character type of the standard-issue dogged detective who runs himself ragged but always seems to be three steps behind his quarry.  French actress Melanie Laurent, best-known as the vengeful Shoshanna in Inglourious Basterds, is his more insightful counterpart with whom he develops a little sexual tension.  Woody Harrelson provides a little comic relief as the sardonic hypnotist Merritt.  Morgan Freeman and Michael Caine lend their gravitas to characters who both look at the Horsemen and see dollar signs in different ways.  Insofar as Now You See Me has “villains”, Caine and Freeman come closest.  Isla Fisher (who has a little trouble with her American accent) and Dave Franco (who bears an immediately noticeable physical resemblance to his more famous brother James) stay more in the background, except for Franco getting the movie’s biggest action scene, including a foot chase and hand-to-hand fight with Ruffalo that turns into a car chase.

Now You See Me isn’t anything terribly deep or substantial, but it’s a satisfyingly clever entry in the caper/heist/magician genres, with a fast-moving pace, some witty dialogue, and some genuinely surprising twists and turns.  This is a magic show worth watching.

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