Now You See Me is a cocktail of several beloved films with equal parts Usual Suspects, Ocean’s Eleven, The Prestige and The Fugitive, resulting in a spellbinding caper that will keep you guessing right until the final act.
Four solo magicians — J. Daniel Atlas (Jesse Eisenberg, The Social Network), Merritt McKinney (The Hunger Games’ Woody Harrelson in his always enjoyable experienced pro role), Henley Reeves (Isla Fisher, The Great Gatsby) and Jack Wilder (Dave Franco, Warm Bodies) — are brought together by a mysterious benefactor and when we see them a year later, they’ve become a main attraction in Las Vegas known as The Four Horsemen. Clearly, the vivacious Fisher could hardly be confused for a guy, but Three Horsemen and A Lady doesn’t have the same ring to it.
The quartet concludes its Vegas stint by pulling off their greatest trick — robbing millions from a bank in Paris and showering their misbegotten gains on the audience, to the delight of their wealthy manager Arthur Tressler (Michael Caine, The Prestige).
Once authorities discover the trick was no mere stunt and the money was somehow stolen, FBI agent Dylan Rhodes (Mark Ruffalo, Marvel’s The Avengers) is assigned the case and forced to partner with Interpol agent Alma Dray (the fantastic Melanie Laurent, Inglourious Basterds). The duo set off on a cross-country pursuit that takes them from New Orleans to New York to prevent the Horsemen from completing their three-part farewell trilogy.
Also interested in their actions is Thaddeus Bradley (Morgan Freeman, Oblivion), an ex-magician who now spends his time ruining the lives of his former associates by revealing how they perform their tricks. Bradley sees the Horsemen as a major payday while gloating about how Rhodes continues to be outmatched. Rhodes begins to consider that the Horsemen might have help from a Fifth Horsemen who has yet to be revealed and considers everyone a potential suspect.
Before you can say Keyser Söze, the mystery deepens with little clue about who Rhodes can or should trust. It’s refreshing to watch a movie where you have no idea what’s happening next.
Director Louis Leterrier (The Incredible Hulk) has a firm grip on the pacing and always keeping that forward momentum going so the film feels like a chase. In one of the film’s best scenes, he stages a continuous shot of Rhodes chasing the Horsemen through a crowded New Orleans room. And while he can cheat the tricks using digital effects, Leterrier stays fairly honest with the magic acts while working in some better than you’d expect fight and car chase scenes.
It’ll be interesting to revisit this one later to see if the screenwriters Boaz Yakin (Safe), Ed Solomon (Imagine That) and newcomer Edward Ricourt provide any tells to the film’s twist throughout or if they wrote it deliberately vague so there was no way to predict the ending.
With one of the year’s best ensemble cast, there’s a lot of jockeying for screen time and the screenwriters almost have too much talent to work with. They almost could have made three movies just by switching perspectives.
The Horsemen — arguably the most compelling set of characters — disappointingly get the short end of the character development stick and are largely used as the mysterious protagonist/antagonist plot device.
That’s partially due to the nature of the film’s setup. Were they to get more screen time, we wouldn’t keep guessing what’s under their sleeve.
Still, I would have loved to have seen a few more scenes of Eisenberg playing the arrogant bad boy with his Zombieland co-star Harrelson. And it was fun watching The Dark Knight Rises co-stars Caine and Freeman reunite and playing obnoxious, know-it-alls instead of their normal likable, grandfatherly types. One performance is atypically shaky, but to say more would be a significant spoiler.
Some may find the ending a little too convenient, but it’s sensible and not an out of left field conclusion that was tossed in just for shock value.
Whether you dig illusions or you’re into heist-style adventures, Now You See Me is a lot of fun and a magic mystery that’ll keep you wondering how they did that.
Rating: 7.5 out of 10
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