Director: Louis Leterrier Starring: Jesse Eisenberg, Mark Ruffalo & Woody Harrelson 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” Rating: 12A Runtime: 115 minutes
“When I first met you, I thought you were kind of a… dick.”
Magic is a medium that is hard to replicate. By that I mean, when you see it first hand you can be left genuinely astounded by the trickery and fast hands of a performer, but on the big or even small screen, such an act can lose much of its appeal. Magic relies on the performer being quicker and smarter than the audience, but when quick hands and sharp eyes are replaced by CGI and a good editor, the illusion is lost. That, among other things, is the problem with Now You See Me. It’s all very much a show, and moves at a lightning pace but fails in its attempts to really draw you in.
Now You See Me introduces us to its core cast of characters very quickly, and hopes they are intriguing enough to keep our attention. A mysterious man in a hood brings together Jesse Eisenberg, Woody Harrelson, Isla Fisher and Dave Franco as four magicians of various skill who are suddenly renamed The Four Horsemen. These Four Horsemen are soon catapulted to national fame, and quickly find themselves performing at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas. Here, they perform the biggest trick of their short careers and attempt to rob a bank, in Paris.
We are then introduced to Mark Ruffalo’s FBI agent whose job it is to figure out how a group of magicians could be in Las Vegas yet rob a bank in Paris. To assist his case he brings in Morgan Freeman, who plays a man who has made a career out of showing how magicians perform their tricks. All the while, Michael Caine sits in the background as the man who is funding The Four Horsemen’s various shows.
Director Louis Leterrier is not a director who is necessarily known for his subtlety, and it shows here. Now You See Me is a very fast, very slick blockbuster film but does little in the way of characterisation or storytelling. Instead, Leterrier focuses on the tricks The Four Horseman perform, and perhaps was hoping that if he kept things moving quickly enough that the audience wouldn’t spot the faults in his film. Chief among them is a plot that is so convoluted and unlikely to ever occur, that if fails to grip you. It is instead left to the films cast of roguish characters to keep us entertained in light of the paper-thin plot.
The cast is a little Jekyll and Hyde here. Woody Harrelson is his usual sarcastic self and channels his inner Bill Murray here. While Dave Franco is the only one who is given anything like a character arc, and succeeds in turning a small time street hustler into a supremely talented magician. Franco also gets one of the stand out scenes of the film, as he fights various FBI agents at the films midway point. Isla Fisher seems to be the rabbit caught in the headlights here, and struggles among a more talented cast. Jesse Eisenberg I’m sure was meant to be all quick mouthed charm and his character was likely modelled on George Clooney’s Danny Ocean, but instead comes across as annoying and smug and deserving of a smack in the mouth. Michael Caine and Morgan Freeman are as good as always, but seem to be on cruise control for the most part. It is left to Mark Ruffalo to be one of the saving graces here, and brings an entirely human and down to earth performance as the FBI agent who seems to be just as lost in this game of bluff and double bluff as the rest of us are.
I feel somewhat pleased that I got the opportunity to watch Now You See Me at home as opposed to at the cinema. At home, it’s a film that passes a few hours and succeeds at being entertaining in parts, yet utterly baffling in others and left me with the feeling that I was glad I didn’t make a special trip to the cinema for it.
In summary: Now You See Me is fast and frenetic and has some nice set pieces, but falls foul of an over complicated plot that Louis Leterrier never can quite get a handle on.