Now You See Me Review

Posted: December 26, 2013 by Daniel Simpson (PG Cooper) in PG Cooper's Movie Reviews

Now-You-See-Me-1Written by Daniel “PG Cooper” Simpson

Now You See Me is one of the surprise hits of 2013. In spite of mixed reviews from critics and the fact the film is not based on an established property, Now You See Me managed to strike a chord with audiences. I was happy to see an original property find success, even if it came from a pretty mediocre director in Louis Leterrier. Still, its success, coupled with the cool looking cast, was more than enough to get my attention.

The film opens with four different low level magicians each doing their own separate acts. Daniel Atlas (Jesse Eisenberg) is a flashy street performer, Merritt McKinney (Isla Fisher) is an escape artist who specializes in danger, Henley Reeves (Woody Harrelson) is a mentalist who uses his talents to hustle, and Jack Wilder (Dave Franco) who uses tricks to con people. The four are assembled by an unknown benefactor and one year later are highly successful Vegas magicians known as the Four Horsemen. The group begins a spree of crimes relating to their magic acts where they award their audiences with the goods they steal. From there, FBI agent Dylan Rhodes (Mark Ruffalo) is tasked with taking the group down.

Part of the fun with movies about magic is seeing the intricacies of how the various tricks work, but this isn’t really the case with Now You See Me. Early on, the film establishes that the magic tricks used are pretty over the top and implausible. This is something of a mixed bag. On the one hand, some of the magic scenes are flashy and fun. On the other, the scenes are often so unrealistic that they lack tension. Still, the scenes are still somewhat amusing on a more visceral level, but the problem becomes more apparent during any of the tricks which aren’t advancing plot. Scenes where the Four Horsemen are just performing for an audience aren’t really interesting because nothing is actually going on and the tricks are not possible. Look at it this way; watching a real illusionist perform tricks using sleight of hand and misdirection is fun even if it isn’t advancing any story. Watching actors aided with CGI float around in bubbles for no reason isn’t.

The film’s flawed depiction of magic is also essentially the problem with the films plot, but I’ll explain that more in a minute. The story here has a number of moving elements. In addition to the FBI and the Four Horsemen, Morgan Freeman has a role as an expert in debunking magic and Michael Caine as a wealthy business man with a relationship to the Horsemen. There’s also an underlying mystery to everything since we don’t know why the Horsemen were assembled or for what purpose. There’s also a sense of something big being built up too. For a long time, watching these various subplots and characters engage with each other is a lot of fun. However the plot begins to fall apart in the third act. The Michael Caine character, for example, is completely dropped and the various turns become less believable before leading to a very weak twist. I won’t spoil what the twist is, but I will say a big part of it is completely predictable and the other is ludicrous.

I might have given the problematic plot a pass had the film not had such a smug attitude, but Now You See Me genuinely thinks it is a very clever story that comes together perfectly, which is certainly not true. A lot of movies walk this line of having a clever attitude, and when it’s pulled off well, it’s awesome. But when the stories aren’t as clever as the film’s attitude is, the results are very weak. For movies like this to work, the turns need to leave the audience marvelling at how well the various pieces fit together. The pieces of Now You See Me feel like they were clumsily just thrown together. I compare the plot to the magic tricks in the film because while both are fun, they’re ultimately shallow and illogical.

Thankfully, the film is saved by a very fun cast. If I had to guess, it’s the cast that made Now You See Me the big success it is, and they do deliver. Jesse Eisenberg is essentially channeling his Mark Zuckerburg from The Social Network, but it’s still fun to watch him completely upstage everyone else in a room. The horsemen themselves have a lot of chemistry and I credit Letterier for the interesting combination of actors he chooses to use. Mark Ruffalo does a good job as the lead FBI agent since he needs to essentially be comic relief but still a credible agent and he balances the two sides well. Morgan Freeman and Michael Caine also have some fun moments scenes together. I was a bit disappointed with Melanie Laurent, but that has more to do with how the film chooses to use her rather than any of her decisions. Almost all the actors in this film are really above the material, but I’m glad they’re here because they elevate the film quite a bit.

Louis Leterrier also does a solid job as a director. I don’t think he really knows what to do visually in every scene since the camera is often moving for arbitrary reasons, but he gives the film a slick look and a very fast pace which helps make the weak plot easier to swallow. He also crafts some solid scenes, particularly a really cool fight scene between Ruffalo and Dave Franco (of all people) where Franco uses his various tricks to fend against Ruffalo. The scene eventually turns into an exciting chase as well. On the whole, the technical elements of the film are mostly solid. The one exception to this is the score, which is just awful.

Now You See Me’s depiction of magic is a fitting metaphor for the film itself; all flash, no substance. Still, that doesn’t mean the film can’t be fun from time to time. The cast here are a lot of fun to watch, there are a few cool scenes, and I even had a few laughs. The foundations of Now You See Me, the script, is very flawed and weighs the movie down considerably. However the cast and some flourishes are strong enough to make the film pretty entertaining all the same

C+

Comments
  1. CMrok93 says:

    Good review Dan. Hey, I’m all for a movie trying to twist me around along with its story, but I can only handle so much. Once the last twist was shown to me, I couldn’t believe anything I just saw and chalked it up to “smart, but manipulative editing tricks”.

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