Directed by: Louis Leterrier
Starring: Jesse Eisenberg, Isla Fisher, Woody Harrelson, Dave Franco, Mark Ruffalo, Melanie Laurent, Morgan Freeman, Michael Caine
Rated: PG-13 for language, some action and sexual content
If you like heist movies, sleight-of-hand magic, and snappy dialog, you are in for a treat: “Now You See Me” mixes elements of the traditional bank heist movie with the world of professional magic (both up-close street magic and big-stage Las Vegas magic). Add in some interesting conspiracy elements, a director who knows how to make a film with great economy of time and footage, and you are in for a treat.
J. Daniel Atlas (Jesse Eisenberg), Henley Reeves (Isla Fisher), Merritt McKinney (Woody Harrelson), and Jack Wilder (Dave Franco) are all small time magicians who find themselves invited to participate in the biggest, most audacious magic show of all time, by a mysterious benefactor who lays out all the info they need and calls all the shots. They’re all in, and soon The Four Horsemen (as they call themselves) are booking major shows.
When their first performance involves stealing millions of Euros from a bank in France while apparently doing a show in Las Vegas, the FBI and Interpol get involved. Agents Dylan Rhodes (Mark Ruffalo) and Alma Dray (Melanie Laurent) are on the case, but he knows zip about magic and the Four Horsemen are steps ahead of him at every turn.
Director Louis Leterrier (“The Transporter”, “The Incredible Hulk”) has a lot of skill at making every shot count toward the story, the spectacle, or (usually) both. This is a film full of clever patter, serious suspense, and (of course) a pretty amazing car chase. If you’re the kind of person who loves watching magic shows and figuring out the moment where a card was palmed or a bit of misdirection applied, this movie will not disappoint you. Everything’s there, we just aren’t always looking at the right place and time.
The main actors are thoroughly enjoyable – Eisenberg excels at playing the sort of technically-gifted but socially-inept character Daniel is; Harrelson was practically born to play Merrit, a “mentalist” who uses a mix of talents to hypnotize and read the minds of unsuspecting volunteers; Fisher isn’t given a lot to work with, but Henley is very believable as a former-assistant who left to step into the spotlight; and Franco, the only one given much in the way of character development, handles it well.
The real show-stealer is Ruffalo, whose character seems simple but is far from it. He’s a hilarious straight-guy for the constant pranks the Four Horsemen are pulling on him, but Ruffalo never falls into the trap of becoming clownish. It’s a thoroughly enjoyable performance.
With any magic trick, there’s a risk in explaining it. Knowing the secret ruins the magic, and while we might be able to appreciate the technical skills that go into making it work, the wonder is gone. “Now You See Me” wisely avoids explaining too much. Only the absolutely necessary things are explained, everything else is left up to us to either figure out or write off as a trick of some sort. It’s a fine line to walk, and the writers and filmmakers walk it well.
“Now You See Me” is not a film to see if you think you’ll have to go to the bathroom in the middle, unless you don’t mind missing important bits of story. There is no downtime. Likewise, this is not a movie to see if you just want to tune out and watch things blow up, unless you can tune out far enough to not mind all the explanations and motivations you’ll be missing. This is a surprisingly enjoyable movie, a blend of the heist, conspiracy, and showbiz tropes we know and love. It assumes you’re sharp and paying attention, and hits the ground running.