Now You See Me (2013)
“…Now you don’t.”
Director: Louis Leterrier
Cast: Jesse Eisenberg, Common, Mark Ruffalo
Synopsis: An FBI agent and an Interpol detective track a team of illusionists who pull off bank heists during their performances and reward their audiences with the money.
Now You See Me, Louis Leterrier’s fast-paced tale of bank-robbing magicians, is itself like a magic trick. It’s all about illusion and misdirection, and its purpose is to convince an audience that it’s seeing something — well — magical. The thing about a magic trick, though, is that even when we have the mechanics of the trick explained to us, while the sense of awe might be diminished, our admiration for the practitioner of the trick endures or, in some cases, is increased. With Now You See Me, the big reveal is so disappointing, so far-fetched and nonsensical, that the lengthy, distracting spectacle that precedes it is the cinematic equivalent of gaily coloured wrapping paper around an empty package. We’re left not feeling even grudging admiration for the trick it pulled, just a sense of having been cheated.
The movie opens with four street magicians each receiving a mysterious card instructing them to show up at a given address at a certain time and date. Up-and-coming J. Daniel Atlas (Jesse Eisenberg) uses his magical tricks to coax young women into the sack, one-time headline act turned con man Merritt McKinney (Woody Harrelson) not only practices hypnosis, but uses his mind-reading skills to scam cheating husbands out of a few hundred dollars at a time, Henley Reeves (Isla Fisher) performs death-defying feats of escapology, while young Jack Wilder (Dave Franco) uses magic tricks to distract those whose pockets he is picking. Arriving at the address on the card at the same time, the four force their way into the empty apartment building in which they’re treated to some hologram show that promises them untold riches.
One year later, the four are performing in Las Vegas as The Four Horseman, under the patronage of billionaire insurance magnate Arthur Tressler (Michael Caine). The final trick of their spectacular stage show is to teleport an apparently random member of the audience to the vault of his bank in Paris, where he is instructed to leave a signed card and copy of his ticket stub before turning on an air duct which apparently sucks up the bundles of money within the vault which then showers down on the Vegas audience. That’s some trick — especially when it’s discovered that the bank in Paris really has had its cache of money stolen from the vault, and that the only clues to the crime are the playing card and ticket stub.
Against his wishes, FBI agent Dylan Rhodes (Mark Ruffalo) is brought in to investigate the heist, and saddled with a partner from Interpol named Alma Vargas (Melanie Laurent). The reluctant duo’s attempts to question the Four Horseman prove futile, largely because both they and the Horseman know that the police are unable to charge them for the robbery of a bank in Paris through the use of magic while they were thousands of miles away in Vegas. While the Four Horsemen begin publicising their next extravaganza, Rhodes and Vargas turn to Thaddeus Bradley (Morgan Freeman), an ex-magician who has a TV show in which he reveals how magicians perform their tricks. Bradley has no problem explaining the extravagant lengths to which the quartet of magicians went to prepare and pull off their trick. However, proving this was how the robbery was pulled off is impossible.
The next show, in New Orleans, sees the Four Horsemen drain the £140 million from their benefactor Arthur Tressler’s bank account and distribute it amongst the members of the audience, all of whom were once customers of his insurance company who were refused payments due to them or offered vastly reduced payments. Of course, Rhodes and Vargas are in the audience, but Rhodes’ attempt to prevent the Horsemen from making their getaway is foiled when he inadvertently shouts out a word which is a trigger that has been implanted in the minds of a dozen members of the audience who were earlier the subject of McKinney’s hypnotism act and who, believing they are football players, fall upon the policeman. Having made their getaway, the Four Horsemen plan their final show, while Rhodes’ attempts to track them down and Tressler employs Bradley to expose them.
There’s no denying that Now You See Me provides glitzy, fast-moving entertainment that holds you in its thrall even as the suspicion grows that there’s just no way writers Ed Solomon, Boaz Yakin and Edward Ricourt are going to convincingly pull it all off. The story moves fast enough for only the occasionally plot hole to be immediately visible, but once all the razzle-dazzle has passed they start piling up like speeding cars on a foggy motorway. The strings of the Horsemen are pulled by a mysterious benefactor who provides them with their instructions while keeping his or her identity secret, and by the last couple of reels there’s only one possible candidate. This candidate will, in all probability, be a character whom you might have considered as being the culprit earlier in the movie. You’ll no doubt have dismissed the idea as inconsistent with certain things we’ve seen and been shown, and as a preposterous and impossible one which belongs to the era of silent serials like Fantomas or Judex. Well, let me tell you now: you might have dismissed the idea, but the writers didn’t.