Friday, September 13, 2013

Now You See Me

"... now you don't."

A common, if catchy magic show phrase, and title to a "magic trick" movie that aspires to be a way-beyond common, mind-bending trick of a movie. Does it succeed? Well...

Daniel (Jesse Eisenberg) is the classic magician, the leading man with all the charisma, Henley (Isla Fisher) used to be Daniel's "pretty assistant" but has since moved on to her own show; Merritt (Woody Harrelson) is a has-been mentalist who now mostly swindles people out of their money with his talents, and Jack (Dave Franco) is very talented in every way that sleight of hand and misdirection tricks can be used for dangerous and illegal purposes (i.e. he's a glorified pick-pocket) and he can pick locks too. These four talented but small-time magicians are brought together for a combined act by mysterious person for a mysterious purpose. And when they rob a bank, during their show, with the help of the unsuspecting bank owner, the strange case is assigned to FBI agent and skeptic Dylan Rhodes. (Mark Ruffalo) He and Interpol agent Alma (Mélanie Laurent) try hard, but always stay frustratingly a step or two behind "The Four Horsemen" as their master plan unfolds.

What a cast, huh? And I didn't even mention yet that Michael Caine and Morgan Freeman have roles. Ah, now I have. The cast is what drew me to this film, but when there are so many characters played by big names, someone's probably gonna get left out, and in this case, interestingly, it was... everyone. It's hard to identify with any of these characters, which is disappointing, because they are mostly a group of potentially interesting and unique characters, and enjoying characters is way more fun when their potential is realized.

Henley, Daniel, Merritt, and Jack, ready to (maybe-not) blow your mind.

The script is the villain here; I can't blame the actors for the lack of character. In fact, Harrelson does a great job with his limited time and ends up with the best role in the film. Perhaps it's because the role is a mostly comedic role that wouldn't have much depth anyway? Still. Eisenberg and Franco stand out only a little less; Eisenberg either because he's the leader and got more screen-time and lines, (he get the best part of the whole movie, right at the beginning) or simply because I enjoy the actor, and therefore paid more attention to him. The same with Franco (he's a novelty to me because I didn't know James Franco had a brother) except he got some great action scenes.

And when a movie is lacking in the character department, the next best thing is the action scenes. The action is well-done but not extraordinary and any way. (Though Franco does some fighting that looks like it requires a bit of real talent.) Most of the razzle-dazzle comes in the form of CGI during astonishing magic tricks... too astonishing for explanations to be viable apparently. While immersed in the movie it doesn't really occur to you, but afterward you feel a little cheated of really impressive trickery. The "magic tricks" put just a tinge too much emphasis on the magic part. Misdirection, however, is a real strong suit.

When action and magic is combined, the result is many chase-scenes featuring Mark Ruffalo not catching anything.

Okay, I've run out of things I want to mention that are spoiler-free. I'll tackle spoiler topics in a moment, but first I'll wrap up for anyone who hasn't seen the movie and don't want anything spoiled.

Ultimately, Now You See Me wasn't at all a bad movie. I'm simultaneously impressed and disappointed. It didn't have any moral or uplifting message to take away, but it was mostly clean (for today's PG-13 standards) and I did enjoy watching it, it was sparkling, amusing and diverting, but honestly, the trailer was just as deep as the movie, and the characters (other than Ruffalo who got next to nothing in the trailer) get no more development than what those three little minutes show. But a cheap trick still tricks, right? This movie succeeded in doing what it was meant to; the result just wasn't what most would hope for.

*SPOILER WARNING: Major spoilers from here on!*

I shall reveal all!

In the end, all the strange character development problems finally makes sense (still doesn't work though). Throughout the movie "The Four Horsemen" are mysterious unrelatable characters, and Dylan is the relatable one chasing them. The twist reveals that Dylan is actually the one who brought them together. He's part of a mysterious magician society, and the whole scheme is to test the Four to see if they are worthy to join the society, and to take his revenge on Morgan Freeman's character. And that's all well and good, I didn't see it coming, blah blah blah, but it ruined the characters. Now, the Four are the tricked along with us, but we still can't relate, because they were never developed properly. And Dylan isn't relatable anymore because the person we identified with is suddenly all an act. And on top of that, there weren't even any clues to the truth -- the only way to guess the twist was to guess. They should have taken more cues from movies like The Prestige and The Illusionist, though I do give them credit for thinking the twist through; it's not flawed plot-wise as far as I can tell. I could watch it again, but it doesn't seem quite worth it. Once you see it's all a trick, the magic is gone.

One more picture to bookend the spoiler section. The End. Goodnight.


  1. I will probably rent the movie soon, it looks like it should at least be a fun ride. Also the cast is seriously loaded with talent, too bad the script was not better though.


    1. Yep, a fun ride is pretty much all it is. But even though the cast was underused, it still turned out better than if they'd been a bunch of unknowns who can't act.

  2. Thanks for reminding me about this one, Sarah - been wanting to see it! Maybe this weekend, I'll snag a copy and will then have to come back and read what you thought in more detail. :)

    1. No problem! You should, I'd love to hear what you think, especially on the spoiler-y subjects. :)

  3. I’m down for when a movie likes to play with my mind, but do it reasonably. This movie wasn't done reasonably. Good review Sarah.

    1. That's a great way of putting it -- I agree. Thanks, and thanks for the comment!