For a totally preposterous magician caper, “Now You See Me” has a surprising meta edge to it. The film talks a big talk about deception with its Morgan Freeman voice-over narration (“the closer you think you are, the less you will actually see”), but in spite of its high levels of ludicrousness, it delivers exactly that. “Now You See Me” treats its audience as the spectators of a magic act, luring us in and giving us the razzle-dazzle with a stunning reveal of what’s behind the curtain in the end.
The two reactions you will have to this film is that you’ll either hate being duped or you’ll be really impressed that you were. It begins with the exceedingly elaborate script from Boaz Yakin (“Prince of Persia”), Edward Ricourt and Ed Solomon (“Men in Black”). They craft something so totally compelling that no one is bound to turn this film off or walk away before it’s over. Plot holes and leaps in logic and belief are stashed aside until the final minutes because the mystery simply envelops you, just as any good magician in his or her act.
Four magicians with unique talents, slight of hand master J. Daniel Atlas (Jesse Eisenberg), escape artist Henley Reeves (Isla Fisher), mentalist Merritt McKinney (Woody Harrelson) and trickster Jack Wilder (Dave Franco), have mysteriously been recruited to create a magic act unlike anything ever seen. Fast-forward a year later and they reveal their act in Las Vegas, with a grand finale in which they rob a bank in Paris while on stage. Their little display catches the attention of FBI agent Dylan Rhodes (Mark Ruffalo) and an Interpol agent (Melanie Laurent) who work together with famed magician debunker Thaddeus Bradley (Freeman) in order to guess their next move.
And their moves only get more and more complicated and astounding. The script teases with little bits that make you think you’re inching toward an answer only to be caught looking the wrong way. Director Louis Leterrier (“Transporter,” “Clash of the Titans”) adds plenty of movement and excitement to the proceedings as well.
If you so desire to dig below the surface layers of “Now You See Me,” it goes from wildly entertaining and engrossing into downright horrible. No, it’s simply not feasible that anything that happened in this movie could happen. Yes, the characters are only as interesting as their different talents and witty remarks, and their motivation to execute this grand plan comes from something we do not know until the very end. It’s too slick, too neat, too glossy.
“Now You See Me” will only be as good as the person watching it allows it to be. Bite early and lay back and you’re bound to enjoy it; stay skeptical and bank too much on the payoff and you’re bound to dismiss it entirely. It’s the same with any movie that’s building toward a big reveal right from its opening scene. Live by the twist, die by the twist.
Personally, I bought in. Fantastic performances from Eisenberg and Harrelson plus the gravitas of Freeman and Michael Caine as the executive who funds their show helped keep up the appearances and cover up the blemishes that really only became apparent to me upon reflection post-credits. I came in open-minded and bought into the entire aesthetic of the movie and enjoyed it presumably a lot more than if I had paid too close attention to the details. And the ending had me fooled, which happens a lot less these days.
As easily as one can find the seams “Now You See Me” and tear it apart, it does exactly what it set out to do: beguile, trick, deceive and entertain its audience. Regardless of the artistic qualities or merits of a film, if it does what it sets out to do, it’s a success.
Directed by Louis Leterrier
Written by Ed Solomon, Boaz Yakin, Edward Ricourt
Starring: Jesse Eisenberg, Mark Ruffalo, Woody Harrelson, Isla Fisher