“NOW YOU SEE ME” Review (✫✫✫)

And now you don’t.  

We open on a black screen, similar to how a magician opens up his show behind the secrecy of a red curtain.  A deck of cards can be heard flipping through the background with the presence of a calm, cool, and serene voice to accompany them.  “Pick a card”, he says.  “Any card”.  But before his volunteer can pick a card, he is quick to remind her “But look closely.  Because the closer you look, the less you will actually see”.

The words of a true magician, and the fact that he flipped this deck and actually picked the card I choose impressed me even more.  This character is named Atlas, who is played by Jesse Eisenberg, and he is a street magician on such a skill level to where he can make skyscrapers light up in the night.  As he impresses a crowd of ongoing viewers, one stands in the audience with a hood over his head quietly observing Atlas.  We can’t see his face and we don’t know who he is, but he carries a card in his pocket, and leaves it for Mr. Atlas at the end of the performance.

Atlas isn’t the only magician to receive special treatment: three other magicians have also been observed by this strange visitor and have been left cards for each of them.  There is the mentalist Meritt McKinney (Woody Harrelson), the pickpocket Jack Wilder (Dave Franco), and the escape artist Henly Reeves (Isla Fisher).  All four of these talented magicians have been recruited by a secret cult called “The Eye” to carry out a secret mission for them.  One year later, they come together in their first show as “The Four Horsemen”: and during their show, they rob a bank all the way in Paris while still performing in Las Vegas.

The FBI are called in to investigate, and they bring in Agent Dylan Rhodes (Mark Ruffalo) to arrest and interrogate the four horsemen.  Pressing as he is, the horsemen are equally as clever and deceptive.  Henly is spinning chairs, McKinney keeps reading his mind, and Atlas ends the interrogation by taking off his handcuffs and snapping them onto Rhodes.  The rest of the film shows Rhodes chasing the four horsemen, trying to figure out their plot, and to stop them before they succeed.

This film is all about style over substance, a movie that is more concerned with tricks and showcase over character depth and dimension.  Do I care about dimension, however, if the film is more than fun enough to take it over?  The success of movies do not just come from how deep or complex they are.  They also come from how well-made the picture is, how sharply the cut is edited, and how cleverly the narrative is structured.

And boy, if Now You See Me is anything, its definitely clever.  Directed by Lois Letterier (Transporter 2, The Incredible Hulk) and written by screenwriters Ed Solomon (Men In Black) and Boaz Yakin (Remember The Titans), Now You See Me is a movie driven to the brim with its cleverness, its wit, deceit, and effervescent charm in its characters, in what they do, and how they do it.  In many ways, this movie reminds me of caper films such as Oceans Eleven and The Italian Job: its a movie where characters cleverly trick and deceive their pursuers and expose them to their traps and their decisive plans.  They don’t use muscle, brawn, or big guys with guns to get what they want: they use their wits, their brains, and their thievingly cunning plans to accomplish their goals in the plot.

Of course, these plans weren’t inherently inspired by the four horsemen in themselves: someone from the shadows has helped them with this plan, and is always monitoring these horsemen from shadows of secrecy.  Tonally, the film achieves what it desires, and throughout the conniving plot we’re always wondering a key mystery: who is the fifth horseman?  Why did he enlist in the help of these four?  Who could it possibly be?  Is it one of the FBI or Interpol, pretending to be on one side while coyly playing for the other?  Or is it another mystery card player, one who has hidden behind a long-aged myth and has hidden himself from all cards in the field?

This isn’t just a caper film: it is a complex and fascinating mystery, and the cast of characters is all the rogues gallery in this police questioning.   Mark Ruffallo does well as Dylan Rhodes, and in small moments of intimate revealings he shows a man who was once a boy who will always hate those in higher power oppressing the helpless underdogs.  Michael Caine and Morgan Freeman make great cameos, and each play a role we don’t normally see from them, Caine being an antagonistic money monger and Freeman being an observant expose’ of schemes.  Eisenberg, as always, is a knockout in anything he does.  Here his character combines both the social awkward and invertedness of The Social Network, and the coy, cool, sleek confidence of Brad Pitt from Oceans Eleven.  Don’t ask me how he does it, okay?  He just does.

And this is a film that has been bombasted by critics.  For what?  A few quotes I pulled from Rottentomatoes:  “Overcooked, overcomplicated and underinteresting, this heist caper turns into a mess”, one critic said. “Complicated nonsense”, and “…a flimsy plot whose logic disappears faster than a rabbit in a hat”.

There is some truth here.  Yes, the film is overcomplicated.  Yes, it is elaborate and sometimes distracting.  Yes the characters are one-note and thinly written.  And yes, the twist ending is dangerous enough to make the entire narrative collapse on itself, let alone offering the threat of plot holes.

In other words, I’ll admit I don’t understand everything by the end of the picture.  And that’s precisely the point.  There isn’t any fun with a trick that has been exposed: the fun comes in with those trying to figure it out.

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