Now You See Me
Ed Solomon, Boaz Yakin, Edward Ricourt
Jesse Eisenberg, Woody Harrelson, Isla Fisher, Dave Franco, Mark Ruffalo, Mélanie Laurent, Morgan Freeman, Michael Caine, Michael J. Kelly, Common
PG-13 for language, some action and sexual content
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Gone are the days of simple card tricks, rabbits getting pulled out of hats and sawing women in half. Today, illusions are more involved, more deceptive and more engaging. Now You See Me embodies that mystique, crafting a knotted plot into a thoroughly entertaining experience.
Four solo magicians, each at various stages of their careers, are brought together to carry out one of the most elaborate and important magic tricks of their careers. Jesse Eisenberg plays J. Daniel Atlas, a wise-cracking magician who uses psychology and subterfuge to sell his magic and takes simple card tricks and turns them into spectacular spectacles. His former assistant, Henley Reeves (Isla Fisher) has broken out on her own with an act with sex appeal and imminent danger. Woody Harrelson takes on the role of Merritt McKinney, a washed-up mentalist who peddles his abilities in street cafes where his hypnosis and observational skills aid his performance. The final member of the group collectively called The Four Horsemen is Jack Wilder (Dave Franco) a common street magician who betrays his audience’s trust and relies on petty crimes to supplement his income.
When brought together under the financial backing of Arthur Tressler (Michael Caine), the quartet put on a sensational show in Las Vegas where millions of Francs are stolen from a bank in Paris simultaneously with their show. Detective Dylan Rhodes (Mark Ruffalo) is brought on for the case and saddled with a former desk jockey from Interpol (Mélanie Laurent), but their observational skills put them at a disadvantage from the more clever horsemen. To help and to tease them, a former magician turned hoax revealer (Morgan Freeman) walks the police through the execution of the plan and guides them towards the team’s next performance in New Orleans. From there, the police close in on their prey and set in motion a series of events none of them expect.
Director Louis Leterrier is known for his mindless action films with the likes of Transporter 2 and Clash of the Titans suggesting his limited ability. Yet, the original Transporter is entertaining, if strained after the marvelous chase sequence opening; and his rendition of The Incredible Hulk was the second best of the five films leading up to The Avengers. So, while he knows how to entertain an audience, his script selection hasn’t been terribly effective. Here, he’s managed to take up an effective, well constructed screenplay and enliven the material just enough to keep the audience thoroughly engaged. While the gorgeously shot stage performances are a highlight of the film, he mixes this stable-camera action with shaky-cam nausea during the chase sequences, making some convoluted and frustratingly confusing action scenes.
The trio who created Now You See Me as a screenplay are hardly known for their quality output. Ed Solomon has a decent output from his early days in television briefly on Laverne & Shirley and more extensively with It’s Garry Shandling’s Show. After that output, we have a brief bit of brilliance with Men in Black and then a slow slide to mediocrity afterwards. Boaz Yakim began in the late 1980’s and generated eight films of varying quality, mostly poor. Edward Ricourt is entirely new to the game, which may explain why the story he co-wrote with Yakim before Solomon was brought in to help with the screenplay is so fresh and inventive. There are a few narrative loose ends and plot holes, but by-and-large, the script is well structured and ultimately provides a shock twist that feels organic, a rarity in modern filmmaking.
The performances are built upon well recognized stereotypes of each actor. Eisenberg employs rapid-fire, smart-sounding dialogue to frustrate and delude while Harrelson adds a dash of sarcastic wit with his generally genial appearance. Caine has done so many different types of roles that this is similar to a few and divergent from many others. Ruffalo is his easily-flustered, charming self; and Freeman turns on his own brand of paternal charm. Fisher, Franco and Laurent aren’t yet typecast, but I could easily see all of them take on similar roles in the future. None of the performances are great, but they don’t need to be. Each is sufficiently built into the narrative so as to make each a fascinating archetype and draw the audience further into its wiles.
Freeman intones over the trailer, “come in close, because the more you think you see, the easier it’ll be to fool you.” It’s a perfectly fitting tagline. The easiest way to be surprised at the film’s outcome is to focus on figure out who or what is behind The Four Horsemen. The more you think you know about what’s going on, the less you actually know. Now You See Me is an engaging, modern heist film that employs all the familiar tropes of the genre without feeling stale because of it.
June 4, 2013