Now You See Me is on the cusp of being a truly great film set within the worlds of magic, corporate crime and mega-bucks entertainment and against the backdrop of a more traditional Ocean's 11 style crime thriller. Unfortunately, director Louis Leterrier focuses more on sleight of hand than impressive cinema and ends up mostly wasting an impressive cast more than up to the task of turning this stylish and occasionally entertaining film into something far more memorable.
You know you're in trouble when you're watching a film and other films and television shows start popping into your mind.
Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?
Step Up Revolution?
The list goes on.
Leterrier has directed such mediocre fodder as The Transporter films, The Incredible Hulk and the Clash of the Titans remake, so it's difficult to understand why a film with such potential substance was handed over to him given the Oscar calibre talent present in the cast. There's a substantial film trying desperately to rise to the surface here, but Leterrier spends more time with visual tricks and PG-13 action sequences than worrying about advancing a story or building a character.
The film opens with an efficient intro to our key players including:
- J. Daniel Atlas (Jesse Eisenberg), a cocky and controlling hustler of grand proportions
- Merritt McKinney (Woody Harrelson), a former A-list mentalist with a fierce yet almost playful intensity
- Henley Reeves (Isla Fisher), Daniel's former assistant and current escape artist
- Jack Wilder (Dave Franco), an up-and-coming sleight of hand specialist
The four are quickly drawn together by a mysterious fifth player. Before long, they've attracted serious financial backing from Arthur Tressler (Michael Caine), the attention of a magic debunker (Morgan Freeman) and are headlining a Vegas show as a collective called The Four Horsemen. When they use their final trick of their Vegas show to simultaneously pull off a French bank heist while still performing in Vegas, they also attract the attention of an FBI agent (Mark Ruffalo) and Interpol Agent (Melanie Laurent) who are determined to arrest them but can't quite figure out how to do so. In the meantime, their act goes on the road and becomes increasingly over-the-top and elusive.
If you're willing to completely surrender yourself regardless of how ludicrous this all becomes, then you're probably going to have yourself a much better time than those of us who see several films a week and had little problem predicting the film's ample yet formulaic twists and turns. The film's final third is ultimately the film's downfall, with a "big reveal" that seems anti-climactic and more than one fake ending that seems to be trying to conclude storylines that were never given that much substance to begin with anyway.
In fact, I left the theater far less satisfied than I felt several hours after watching the film when I realized that these characters were still dancing around in my psyche' and their actions still had my attention despite the fact that the film itself never quite measures up. Jesse Eisenberg finally proves that his Oscar nomination for The Social Network was no fluke, though one could potentially argue that his performance here is really just a slight variation on that acclaimed performance. It's a notable step away from his usual mopey mumbler routine and should clarify for Hollywood once and for all that the young actor can be downright captivating in the right role.
Woody Harrelson also continues his recent impressive streak of film appearances, though there are times he feels just a tad restrained given how much fun he could have had opposite Eisenberg. Mark Ruffalo, as the frustrated FBI agent who is seemingly made a fool of at every turn, also gives a lively and expressive performance that makes it clear he understands the complexity of his character. Both Michael Caine and Morgan Freeman add a nice gravity to their fairly one-note characters, while Isla Fisher and Dave Franco are saddled with occasionally showy yet massively underdeveloped roles. It's hard not to get the sense that Melanie Laurent's Interpol Agent was at one point a more substantial character, but what's left on the screen is mostly unsatisfying.
Rumor has it that Leterrier consulted with David Copperfield and other professional musicians in the making of Now You See Me, and there's no denying that some of the staging is quite impressive. While there was an obvious choice made to de-emphasize special effects, given the tricks portrayed it's hard not to be a bit disappointed that a film with moments of genuine emotional resonance also has moments when the special effects are downright cheesy. There's only one genuine action sequence, a Leterrier-style car chase scene that doesn't really fit with the flow of the rest of the film. Leterrier also incorporates the use of multiple flashback sequences, primarily for expository and clarification purposes, yet their presence becomes cumbersome and slightly condescending.
Infinitely more satisfying than the recent The Incredible Burt Wonderstone, Now You See Me isn't nearly as magical a film as it should be yet it's also not nearly the disappointment that some are going to proclaim it to be. If anything, this top notch cast manages to infuse the film with a sense of fun, style and a little suspense though a bit more in the heart and humor department would have definitely helped the cause.
The closer you watch Now You See Me, the more you're likely to realize how much you're not actually seeing.
© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic