‘I’ ON CULTURE
The new film Now You See Me is like a really good magic trick. It’s a lot of fun to watch, knowing you’re going to be fooled, and as long as you don’t try to look too deeply into how it was done, you’ll have a ball. And, of course, once it’s over, you walk away saying, “Wasn’t that clever?” — without analyzing why it was fun to be fooled. I did not have high expectations for the film, but I thoroughly enjoyed sitting through it.
The film seems to center on four clever magicians, card shark Daniel (Jesse Eisenberg), mentalist Merritt (Woody Harrelson), mind magic expert and pickpocket Jack (Dave Franco) and illusionist Henley (Isla Fisher), who are recruited by a mysterious person to join together for a new act. As “The Four Horsemen,” they do a major act in Las Vegas in which they seemingly use teleportation to rob a bank in Paris, distributing the gains to the audience. The FBI assigns cranky agent Dylan Rhodes (Mark Ruffalo) to the case along with French Interpol cop Alma Vargas (Melanie Laurent). Adding to the fun are the magicians’ wealthy backer, Arthur Tressler (Michael Caine), and magic debunker Thaddeus Bradley (Morgan Freeman).
Daniel, held by the FBI, boasts to Rhodes that it helps to be the smartest guy in the room. Since there is no way to directly connect the magicians to the robbery short of actually believing in magic, they are released, but followed. The movie becomes a cat-and-mouse game with the magicians generally a step ahead. Their ability to do what they do leaves massive plot holes, but things move so fast that no one has time to realize it. Rhodes seems totally frustrated throughout.
There are a lot of sub-themes in the film. There are times when it seems a very socially conscious movie, with the magicians attempting to be Robin Hoods. But after a short while, that is forgotten. There is a lot of talk about magic, how the closer you look, the less you see. And director Louis Leterrier follows that maxim: The film is filled with quick-shot editing, hand-held cameras and a nice dose of computer-generated images. A fight between Jack, Rhodes and another FBI agent is both exciting and fun as Jack escapes and grabs an FBI car, leading to a car chase through the streets of New York that is great. There is a lot of suspicion; there is betrayal. There is a load of mysticism about “The Eye of Horus” protecting the great magicians. And, of course, there is also the search for why the magicians are doing their act. Finally, there is the question of exactly who they are working for.
The actors are all more than reasonably charming, but there is almost no character development for any of them. They play the parts well, but none of the performers playing the magicians really has much emotional interaction with anyone else, including the other magicians. Harrelson gets some good snickers and even laughs as he chews up the scenery, but most of the time he is restrained. Caine is mostly wasted, and Freeman gets to have fun in a part a lot more fun than most of the very respectable parts he has had lately. Ruffalo seems mostly surly and suspicious through most of the film, although his scenes with Laurent work well. She is the one grace note of the film; the screen lights up when she is around. In the long run, the weak characterizations become the one factor that prevents this from being a really top-of-the-line film. The people who should be nice are nice, but they never change.
On the other hand, this film is different from the regular summer blockbusters. There is at least the pretense of a script. There are no superheroes or over-the-top party scenes (well, there is a big party atmosphere in both New Orleans and Queens, but they’re basically just used as background). It actually is different from the other summer movies we’ve seen. We enjoyed the film; it was fun. It managed to keep us wondering most of the time, and we walked away happy. In a week filled with rain, it brought a nice ray of sunshine.
It’s a good movie. If you don’t want superheroes, it is a really nice summer change of pace.