Everybody loves a magic trick. It’s the epitome of show-biz. If the magician’s a good one, you’re transfixed, stunned, and surprised, but above all, you’re entertained. And even though you know it’s all an illusion, you’re still left wondering, how’d they do that?
In the new thriller Now You See Me there’s not one magician but four, each with a special entertainer’s talent that when grouped together make magic; well, not exactly magic, we know it’s all a trick, but you’re still left wondering, how’d they do that, and on such a grand scale?
Woody Harrelson, Jesse Eisenberg, Isla Fisher and Dave Franco are four slightly shady tricksters enlisted by someone unknown to commit a set of incredibly elaborate Las Vegas style illusions. The result is the robbing of banks that ends with the money literally sprayed over the audience. How they’re doing it or even why they’re doing it is part of the mystery, but the real mystery is… who’s behind it? “Who are we working for?” asks Harrelson. Of course, all will be eventually revealed, but it’s the journey to get there that’s the fun.
“Ladies and gentlemen,” the magician’s announce at the beginning of their act, “Tonight, we are going to rob a bank.” And that’s exactly what they do in front of everyone. They even enlist the help of the bank owner who happens to be in the audience. And his bank is in Paris! And before you declare, c’est n’est pas possible they actually do it.
Michael Caine plays Arthur Tressler, a multi-millionaire whose money has been made from his insurance company. As many of us might suspect of our own insurance managers, his fortune has come from having his business find ways of not paying out when an insurer makes a claim, leaving them stranded and penniless while he becomes wealthier than ever. After the Parisian bank robbery, Tressler becomes the magician’s next victim. He suffers the humiliation on stage of watching his bank account empty before his eyes as it’s passed on to the bank accounts of everyone he’s defrauded. How’d they do that? “Whatever you stand to make,” an angry Tressler tells Morgan Freeman, a professional debunker of magic tricks, “I’ll double it if you expose them.”
In addition to having both Caine and Freeman on their tails, the four magicians, known as The Four Horsemen, have the FBI and Interpol chasing them in the shape of Mark Ruffalo and French actor Melanie Laurent. They’re a fun couple to watch as they bicker and get in the way of each other while they attempt to understand what is happening around them. Ruffalo and Laurent are both such appealing actors that even though you don’t want them to succeed in catching the magicians, you hope they don’t become victims themselves in the process.
Misdirection, we learn, is the basic concept of magic, and the film does exactly that; it misdirects our attention by having the camera zip and sweep all over the place during the tricks and the chases so that we never have time to work everything out. The film settles during the exchanges between the characters as they discuss the theories of magic as entertainment and the fact that they’re using magic and illusion to even the playing field of justice, but when the fantastical and ridiculously elaborate tricks are performed, director Louis Leterrier isn’t content on letting us simply enjoy the act, he has to dazzle us with all kinds of visual camera tricks of his own that leaves you frazzled. The camera work is actually distracting.
On the plus side, the film really moves, never sagging, and like all good magic tricks, it keeps you transfixed and entertained, plus the twist at the end, when the person behind the curtain is finally revealed, is a real surprise; at least, it was for me. The film even goes to great lengths to explain many of the tricks we’ve seen, which is fine, particularly in the case of that Paris heist, but to be honest there comes a point when you no longer want to know how they did it. Not everything. When it comes to the illusion of a magic trick not everything needs to be explained, even in a film where the ability to cheat with CGI and other mind-boggling special effects are at a director’s disposal. After all, isn’t part of the fun not knowing? That’s the real magic.
MPAA Rating: PG-13 Length: 116 minutes Overall Rating: 7 (out of 10)