Now You See Me
Now You See Me is a glossy big budget film full of dazzling camerawork and fancy effects that attempt to misdirect the audience, as the vague plot moves forward towards the inevitable dramatic reveal in the final twist. The main premise consists of four small-time magicians being pulled together by a mysterious invitation to build a show, during which they rob a bank. Obviously they attract unwanted attention from a dogged FBI agent, accompanied by a talented rookie from Interpol, all the while watched by a former magician who specialises in revealing the secrets behind tricks.
Whilst featuring a few card moves and moments of real illusion, the majority of the tricks in Now You See Me are CGI-heavy and therefore unbelievable, but in the wrong way. A magic trick works because the audience cannot believe it but do, thereby questioning their own perception. With obvious computer-enhanced effects, that contradiction is lost, rendering the so-called magic just visual flair with no substance. Perhaps that in itself is a commentary on stage magicians, but if so it is a cheap shot which ignores the long history of stage magic, and the work that goes into a good illusion.
The cast is impressive, and although they all seem invested in their parts, there is still something of a spark missing. The central magicians are dubbed the Four Horseman, for no reason other than it sounds good. Jessie Eisenberg plays against type as a suave charmer, Woody Harrelson is the cocky hypnotist in an unchallenging role, Isla Fisher is Eisenberg’s former assistant turned performer in her own right who has very little to do, and Dave Franco is unfortunately redundant which is a shame as he puts the most work in. The FBI agent, Mark Ruffalo, is exactly what you would expect, as is Mélanie Laurent’s Interpol agent, though at least she gets some moments of character within the script, even as the unlikely and obviously forced romantic subplot develops between them. Michael Caine and Morgan Freeman deliver their lines with gravitas, but they could both do that if they were reading from cue cards with no rehearsals.
Believability is stretched beyond the limit for me, as although there is passing reference to stagehands, none are ever questioned or even considered by the FBI, other than to follow their movements in an obvious setup of misdirection. Putting that aside, along with the overuse of CGI, and I am still left wondering how they could set up and execute 3D-mapped building projections and outdoor speaker rigs without alerting the FBI. Then there is the final twist, which undermines the entire plot. Watching the film a second time with that foreknowledge does not present an alternative tale, unlike better-written films, even further rendering it a poor writing decision.
All in all, if you have yet to see it and it’s on TV, Now You See Me can be a vaguely amusing distraction for a couple of hours, but I wouldn’t seek it out.