IN CINEMAS NOW
RUNNING TIME: 115 min
REVIEWED BY: Dr Lenera, Official HCF Critic
Four magicians are brought together by a mysterious benefactor and, one year later, perform in Las Vegas as ‘The Four Horsemen’, sponsored by insurance magnate Arthur Tressler. For the finale of their performance, the Four Horsemen invite a member of the audience to help them in their next trick: robbing a bank. The man is teleported to a bank in Paris, where he activates an air duct which vacuums up the money and showers it onto the crowd in Las Vegas. FBI agent Dylan Rhodes and Interpol agent investigate the theft and interrogate the Four Horsemen, but release them when no explanation for the theft can be found other than magic. Rhodes hopes that Thaddeus Bradley, an ex-magician who makes money by revealing the secrets behind other magicians’ tricks, can help him, just as the Four Horsemen announce another performance……
Magic continues to attract interest and even seems to be popular in this cynical age. Maybe it offers some escape from our troubled times, and a suggestion of a world that isn’t rational and therefore more attractive than ours. While what could be called magic is constantly on view in films due to the fact that special effects can show us virtually everything, actual films about magicians are fairly thin on the ground, at least good ones, ones that actually try to explore the concept of magic and ask the age-old question: is there such a thing as real magic or is all of it an illusion? 2006’s The Illusionist and The Prestige are perhaps the last two really good movies that tried to do this. Now You See Me is not really in the category of those two efforts. For a start it’s much more simplistic, despite giving the impression of complexity at times, and its story is full of holes. Nonetheless it is a decent piece of entertainment. Unlike Man Of Steel and World War Z, it’s at least reasonably shot, edited and directed for the most part.
Our ‘Four Horsemen’ are introduced quickly in the early scenes. There’s Daniel Atlas, a street performer doing card tricks, the seemingly typical tricks climaxing in a whole building somehow reflecting his card. There’s Merritt McKinney, a street mentalist, able to hypnotize and supposedly read the minds of his customers, though not all the time. He is seen using his skills to rob someone. There’s Jack Wilder, who also works on the street and lures in customers by betting them money if they can figure out his tricks, then steals from them during the commotion. And last but not least is Henley Reeves, who narrowly escapes drowning. She works as a performer constantly risking her life for the audience’s thrill. All four of them run into a stranger in a hoodie, whose face is never seen by the camera, and eventually discover tarot card themed invitations with a stylised eye. They all find themselves in the same place, then the film skips forward a year, and here is one of its major problems. We never get to know these four characters any more, them barely registering as actual people except for Woody Harrelson’s character who has a couple of good moments, and potential playing around with audience’s sympathies for likeable thieves is soon ditched in favour of an emphasis on the police investigation.
The story proceeds fast, and sometimes too fast, with many scenes feeling like they have been cut to the bone, the filmmakers assuming that a teenage audience will get bored otherwise. Still, Mark Ruffalo, who can do a role like this in his sleep now and still make it good, and the lovely Melanie Lourent from Inglourious Basterds, are a fun partnership and some of their barbed exchanges work well. Around half way through the revelations begin to come thick and fast, as does the action. Director Louis Leterrier, whose last two American releases were the lousy Clash Of The Titans remake and the middling The Incredible Hulk, usually has a knack for action which is fast and frantic while just stopping short of the incoherent crap that plagues films like World War Z. Sadly he does resort to horrid shakycam a couple of times here but it’s not for long, and amends are made with a cracking car chase. The tale doesn’t really have a big action climax, which seems to have disappointed some, and instead relies on one of the craziest twists in ages. Does it work?
Well, I would say yes and no: it’s startling, but after a while you may very well think that it makes nonsense of some of what has come before. It almost seems like they thought of the twist as a starting point and, working backwards, asked themselves what would be the best ways to misdirect the audience. I would say that the script is the film’s weakest feature, not so much the dialogue, but the plot. Some things don’t really bare scrutiny at all, from the complete and utter stupidity of the FBI, to the use of what seems like alien technology near the end, a scene which jars with the way the rest of the film takes pains to explain the way things have been carried out. Some of the most exhilarating sections in the film, and there are some, are when the Four Horseman carry out things which seem impossible, and then when it’s all explained a few scenes later. Leterrier handles these scenes so well that one can almost forgive the many implausibilities except for one involving…well, I won’t say, but it involves two cars and is so ludicrous that it’s just laughable.
There are also some good scenes involving Morgan Freeman and Michael Caine, especially when they are together. Freeman is Freeman while Caine is scarier than normal. They hint at unseen depths to the proceedings, and don’t just strengthen clumsy things that are never followed through like a bit where Freeman hints that in New Orleans that there might be real magic after all. That’s the thing about this film, it’s a bit awkward and thinks it’s more sophisticated than it actually is. The breakneck pace keeps the excitement level high but also means that a film with such a large cast of major characters never spends enough time with any of them. The Four Horsemen really do suffer here. The parts are all well played, and I was looking forward to see Isla Fisher in a big Hollywod role, but the efforts of the performers are partially wasted. The film is fun throughout, but constantly hints at becoming something more without succeeding, and it almost feels like it has been cut down from a much longer version. I wouldn’t be surprised if a Director’s Cut comes out for home viewing, and I would certainly buy it.
There is much to like here; the film has a fairly original premise – okay you could say it’s The Prestige meets Ocean’s Eleven, but how cool is that?, it’s constantly interesting to the point it kept me guessing, is never dull, and the performances are good throughout. It’s also a bit more visually colourful than most of Leterrier’s films, and has a good score by Brian Tyler which I actually thought was from Carter Burwell until I looked it up, so similar did it sound in places. I enjoyed Now You See Me, but think it could have been a lot more. We are told throughout to look closely, because the closer you think you are, the less you will actually see. Well, I would slightly alter that to say: don’t look too closely, otherwise you might find there is little to see. Instead, just sit back and turn your brain not totally off but at least into neutral, and you should have quite a good time.