Title: Now You See MeDirector: Louis Leterrier
Starring: Jessie Eisenberg, Mark Ruffalo, Woody Harrelson, Melanie Laurent, Isla Fisher, Dave Franco, Michael Caine, Michael Kelly, Common, Morgan Freeman
Plot: Four magicians are brought together by a mysterious benefactor to form “The Four Horsemen”, while using their shows to pull of a series of bank heists, while rewarding the audience with the money.
Review: Seeing how it seems like I hadn’t seen a heist movie in awhile I thought that I would give this one a watch, even more so since heist movies are few and far between these days, especially since the last memorable ones in recent memory was the A-list vanity project “Oceans 11” and its questionable sequels. Still this one promised to be something different seeing how its heists being carried out by magicians which honestly something I don’t think I’ve seen before.
Making up their number is hypnotist Merrit McKinney (Harrelson), escape artist Henley Reeves (Fisher), sleight of hand master and occasional pickpocket Jack Wilder (Franco) and rounding them out is Street Magician and illusionist J. Daniel Atlas (Eisenberg) who also serves as the groups’ unofficial leader. While the crew being brought together might not come with the usual heist skills, the setup is essentially the same as the four magicians getting a “Charlie’s Angels” style introduction which highlights their individual skills before each of them receive a mysterious playing card leading them to a seemingly abandoned apartment, which is not quite as empty as first seems as they soon shown a hologram of a series of blueprints which serves as the catalyst for the group coming together.
It is unsurprisingly a unique set of skills which the group brings together and half the fun is seeing how they use them to pull of each heist which are played out like grand illusions. Despite the magicians all coming from very different disciplines they somehow manage to combine their skills to pull off the heists and become the cohesive unit required, while using the secret group of magicians known simply as “The Eye” who used their magic to distract the rich who they were stealing from to give to the poor as the inspiration for their actions. Of course with each heist there is always the question of how they did it and like any good magic trick and like a Penn and Teller or Masked Magician routine director Leterrier is happy to share with you the secrets of how they did it, which he provides via magician turned illusion exposer, Thaddeus Bradley (Freeman) while using the FBI agent Rhodes (Ruffalo) and Interpol agent Dray (Laurent) to essentially represent the audience as they relentlessly pursue the group, only to frequently find themselves a step behind.
When it comes to the illusions it is an intriguing mix of practical magic tricks and illusions combined with a handful of slightly more far-fetched and CGI inhanced tricks like Henley floating over the audience in a giant bubble. It is of course a credit to the cast that they can convincingly pull of the practical tricks, especially considering that Fisher who almost drowned while performing her trademark Piranha tank escape. Needless to say when faced with non-magicians performing magic, the urge is to instantly drawing comparisons to “The Prestige” which seems to be the film which most critics seem keen to compare it to, while critising this film for the use of CGI trickery and no doubt forgetting the whole Tesla coil transportation plotline that “The Prestige” featured so predominately. So yes while not all the tricks might not be genuine magic per say, they still do come with enough wonder and presence to captivate the audience, unlike the CGI heavy “The Illusionist” whose own brand of CGI trickery only left the film feeling hollow.
While the magic might be the main draw here Leterrier is keen to not limit the magic to the staged performances, as shown with a great showdown between Wilder and Rhodes which starts off as a brawl with Wilder pulling out a number of smaller tricks such as flaming playing cards and curtain tricks to maintain the upper hand, before Leterrier kicks things up a gear with a high speed car chase along the Brooklyn bridge, which is only added to when we later discover that what seemed like wits and cunning might have been more staged than first seemed.
With all this entire misdirection taking place, it is something of a shame that some of the casting choices here prove to more of the wrong kind of distraction, with Ruffalo frequently coming off more bored than the driven FBI agent it seem that he was supposed to be. The horsemen on the other hand are a believable unit, even if Eisenberg frequently comes off more smug than cocky as he continues to be a frustrating actor to follow, especially when both “Zombieland” and “The Social Network” both highlighted the kind of performance he is capable of giving with the right direction. Franco on the other hand seems to be overwhelmed by the experience or perhaps its more to do with the writing for his character, which constantly seems to have his character coming off more like a prodigy or rookie rather than an equal to the other members of the group
An intriguing and frequently fun premise, it largely works throughout the runtime even if some of the final twists do seem ultimately forced, while an additional scene from the theatrical version setting up the direction of the sequel has been strangely cut from the DVD release. At the same time with the sequel already in pre-production at the time of writing I would be interested to see were the horsemen would go next, which hopefully will be on a focused caper, especially when the film is at its strongest when focusing on the group and not the hit and miss sub-plots such as those surrounding magician debunker Thaddeus Bradley. Despite this the film still manages to project another flair and style to cover for most of its flaws, while certainly making it one of the more watchable capers of recent years.