Readers are warned that this review gives away a key plot detail
‘Come in close, because the more you think you see, the easier it’ll be to fool you’. The tagline for this film pretty much sums it up, what you expect is not what you get. From the trailer it seems gripping and exciting; a group of magicians pulling off extravagant global heists in a Robin Hood like concept. Stealing from the rich and giving to the ‘poor’ (in this modern day twist the ‘poor’ are those affected by the economic crisis). But after watching it that impression will disappear and the feeling of being cheated will replace it because it is not as captivating as it initially seems. Really this is just a nicely concocted revenge plan with an ending that becomes increasingly irritating the more you think about it.
The premise for the film is actually rather interesting and perhaps if written differently could have been spectacular. Four talented street magicians: savvy trickster J. Daniel Atlas (Jesse Eisenberg), escape artist Henley Reeves (Isla Fisher), pickpocket Jack Wilder (Dave Franco) and mentalist Merritt McKinney (Woody Harrelson) are brought together by a mysterious benefactor. A year later these street acts, now known as “The Four Horsemen”, are household names producing sell out shows. But after pulling off a million dollar robbery FBI agent Dylan Rhodes (Mark Ruffalo) and Interpol rookie Alma Dray (Melanie Laurent) are brought in to solve the case and arrest the group. Added into this mix is Thaddeus Bradley (Morgan Freeman), an ex-magician who makes a living out of exposing the secrets of other performers.
It was always going to be risky bringing magic to the big screen. The beauty of magic is the thrill you get watching someone deceive you. But with the use of CGI and camera tricks this excitement could easily be lost in translation and for the audience to be in awe and constantly wondering how they managed it, it has to be believable. The illusions however are not what let this film down, rather they save it. The magic whether simple card tricks or grand illusions are effortless and dazzling. The first half of the film, filled with moments like these, is definitely superior to the second. Fast paced, amusing, witty, intelligent and extremely entertaining, it ticked all the boxes and if it had carried on in a similar fashion it would have been given five stars.
But as Ruffalo’s character becomes more involved (and angry) the story loses its pace and gets lost within its self. Ruffalo and Laurent are given far more screen time than is necessary. Their scenes are not particularly interesting rather they act as plot fillers, moving the story along and dropping information needed to understand the ending. There is also some awkward sexual tension between the two which definitely could have been done without. Especially as the chemistry between Fisher and Eisenberg’s characters is far more interesting but remains unexplored. The ending itself is somewhat bizarre. The Horsemen disappear on a carousel, never to be seen again, and the ‘twist’ at the end actually makes for a very flimsy storyline. Spoiler Alert: the man chasing the magicians is the man funding the magicians; which means they were never going to be caught.
In my mind this film would have improved drastically had there been more scenes with “The Four Horsemen”, as the trailer insinuated there would be. The interaction between Eisenberg, Fisher, Franco and Harrelson is magical and their chemistry is undeniable. Their cunningness, intelligence, wit and confidence make them a likeable group and the sophistication, style and elegance which they carry out their ploys makes them admirable. It is a shame Franco, who is known for his humorous perform ances, isn’t given a bigger speaking role. But, Eisenberg gives a stand out performance playing Atlas the controlling, arrogant man child with an air of charm surrounding him. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for Ruffalo’s character. His crabbiness and a particular drunken scene make him quite disagreeable, so by the end of the film we don’t really care about him at all, making the ending even more annoying.
Now You See Me (2013), directed by Louis Leterrier, is released in the UK by Universal Pictures, Certificate 12A.
This review has been edited: In response to a request from a reader, this review warns from the outset that there is a key plot detail revealed.