June 1, 2013
Director Louis Leterrier (French director of The Incredible Hulk, Clash of the Titans and The Transporter) brings his unique flashy, big budget, art-house sensibility to this new release about a supergroup of illusionists called “The Four Horsemen” pulling off multiple heists as they get tracked by the FBI.
While his hyper-colorized frenetic visual style demands and largely keeps the audiences’ attention, it is the chemistry of the cast delivering the level of magnetism that creates such entertainment for the duration, making the audience feel every moment in the dark is well spent.
While there are several flaws in Now You See Me, it is entertainment unique enough to suit anyone looking for something fresh and fun at the multiplex.
Each character is a modern magician who specializes in a different talent.
Jesse Eisenberg is Atlas, a charismatic expert in sleight of hand, and Woody Harrelson is Merritt Osbourne, who is a mentalist with a waning career he is looking to reinvigorate. The two actors are back after working together on the crowd pleaser Zombieland, and clearly work exceedingly well with each other.
Isla Fisher plays Henley, an escape artist extraordinaire. Her role was originally written for a man, but Fisher finds ways to develop her as a strong and fearless woman. She said she imagined a mix of Katharine Hepburn and Lisbeth Salander from Girl With the Dragon Tattoo.
Dave Franco rounds out the Four Horsemen team as an expert pickpocket, and is the impressionable junior member looking to impress. It is how these four actors as these characters feed off each other and how they interact with Mark Ruffalo and French star Melanie Laurent (as the team of FBI agent Dylan Hobbs and Alma, the Interpol operative helping him), that makes the movie really worth seeing.
It is risky, genius casting. No one actor here would usually be thought of for a lead, but almost all have been, and three of them (Ruffalo, Harrelson and Eisenberg) have Oscar noms to their credit. They work so well together, they genuinely create an ensemble where all seem essential and of vital interest to the story’s movement. That kind of generosity makes for great moments, and there are plenty to be had here.
Now You See It also has two legends in juicy supporting roles. Michael Caine and Morgan Freeman and the characters they play make the proceedings all the more compelling, especially since Caine starred in several movies that inspired the writers for this one.
As to this sort of caper/magic mashup, it is a very interesting twist on a classic heist film, recalling movies like The Sting, Sleuth, Deathtrap and Oceans Eleven, as well as that great ’70s TV cult favorite, Banacek.
Since in Now You See Me there are multiple heists the audience is witness to, we get to puzzle out how each is done, while we experience a suspense building as to whether they will ultimately succeed. The audience grows to love the characters, even with all their quirks and weaknesses, and root for the Four Horsemen to get away with everything they are doing, right or wrong.
The filmmakers’ idea to use two cinematographers, Mitchell Amundsen for the action sequences, and Larry Fong for the illusions, was a choice that proved to be one of the film’s two big weaknesses. While they each, in their way, create eye-popping sequences that the audience will hold in their memory far after the end titles roll, these two distinct designs seamed together feel disjointed and incongruous. Either one would have been great on their own, but the two become an embarrassment of riches that climbs over the top, challenging the visual continuity.
The other weakness is the plot, which, to be sure, has many twists and turns that are very enjoyable and unpredictable. It leaves, however, a few holes so big it requires the power of the cast’s chemistry and the visual bombast to keep folks distracted, like a magician’s sleight of hand.
It is accomplished, but when the smoke clears and the audience is walking away, a few unanswerable questions might be raised. No matter, the plot takes you to such fun and exciting places, and the cast carries you so nimbly and with such verve, you are happy to go wherever they lead you.
Ta-da! Hollywood has dropped a great summer flick full of magic and excitement. Poof! That’s the sound of your boredom disappearing into thin air.