Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Film Review: Now You See Me

Full disclosure: I'm a sucker for magic.  So much so that for my 12th birthday I decided I would put on a magic show for all of my friends.

It turned out as horribly as you'd might expect.

The new heist movie, Now You See Me, begins with a magic trick.  And once that trick worked on me, I was completely invested in the movie.  If magic is not your thing, the movie might have a different effect.

The beginning of the movie introduces us to Danial Atlas (Jesse Eisengberg), a young magician at the top of his game.  It also shows us Merritt McKinny (Woody Harrelson), a mentalist and hypnotist who is a the bottom of his game.  We then meet young street hustlining illusionst Jack Wilder (Dave Franco).  Finally Atlas' former assitant, the daredevil Henley Reeves (Isla Fischer).  Each receives a mysterious invitation from an unkown source.  The motley crew have a quick chemistry and the movie flashes forward to a year later where the quartet are headline a Vegas show, during which they rob a bank.  This sets off the rest of the events that lead to the thrilling finale.

But even though we spend the first dozen or so mintues with these characters, it is not their movie.  The movie belongs to Dylan Rhodes, played by Mark Ruffalo.  Unlike Ocean's 11 where you spent most of your time with the fun-loving thieves, Now You See Me spends almost all of its time with Rhodes, the FBI agent tasked with catching them.  He is joined by an inexperienced Interpol agent (Melanie Laurent) who develop a strong love/hate relationship with each other.

It is disappointing that you don't spend more time with the Four Horsemen (as 4 magicians bill themselves).  You get a strong sense of what fun it would be to spend more time with them.  The scenes that we do have where they banter are diverting, but distant.  But it makes sense, story-wise to see the movie through Rhodes eyes.  You can't get too close to the magician, or the trick loses its appeal.  Magic requires that you are on the outside in the audience, hoping to be tricked, delighted to be misled.

Rhodes acts as the vehicle for the audience members who can't figure out how they pull of the illusions.  Everyone has to explain things to Rhodes, and thus to the audience.  This is especailly true of the smug Thaddeus Bradley (Morgan Freeman), who makes millions off of discovering magicians' secrets and spoiling them on the internet.

Ruffalo plays Rhodes straightforward and simple.  That is not an insult.  Ruffalo infuses him with a sort of everyman quality that not a lot of Hollywood actors can pull off.  And yet he is still believeable as a smart, strong law enforcement officer.

To be sure, the movie is not very deep.  And the movie tragically under uses the great Michael Caine as the millionaire backer of the Four Horsemen.  The film also feels like it was during the whole Occupy Wall Street summer.  The script takes delight in tearing down the 1 percenters.  But even now, that theme seems a bit dated.

Director Louis Leterrier, who made the underratted Incredible Hulk, makes a movie that is slick and fast and fun.  There are plot holes to be sure.  But like a good magic show, you want to be tricked so that you can simply enjoy the ride.  That is not to say that the movie is dumb.  There are actually several clever twists.  But overall Now You See Me is a nice summer movie distraction.

4 out of 5 stars

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