Come In Close Because The More You Think You See, The Easier It’ll Be To Fool You
A smart caper film from the director of Clash Of The Titans? Yeah, that’ll be an intelligent, riveting thrill ride. Or the other thing: a bloated, simplistic, unimpressive example of sheer mediocrity. To my mind, there are three great contemporary magic/con films: The Illusionist, The Prestige and The Brothers Bloom and the thing that made them great was by drawing us in and then revealing themselves to be faster and smarter than the audience. This film was neither.
Now You See Me opens with a brief introduction to four magicians. J. Daniel Atlas [Eisenberg] is a typical card-pulling street magician who seems to have achieved moderate fame, Henley Reeves [Fisher] used to be Atlas’ assistant but now goes it alone, performing elaborate stunt tricks, Jack Wilder [Franco] operates simple scam tricks, using deception to steal watches and wallets and Merritt McKinney [Harrelson] is a mentalist who has fallen from the limelight but uses his ability to blackmail adulterers. All four are summoned by the mysterious secret cabal of magicians, known as The Eye. The film then jumps ahead one year and the four magicians are headlining Las Vegas as The Four Horsemen. In front of a packed crowd, the magicians seemingly rob a bank in Paris then distribute three million dollars worth of Euros to the audience. FBI agent Dylan Rhodes [Ruffalo] is brought in to arrest the magicians, with the assistance of French Interpol agent, Alma Dray [Laurent] but naturally cannot convict them without openly admitting that magic is real. Unable to prove their case, they release the illusionists in time for their next show. Sure enough, they pull off another elaborate cash-related stunt and evade the police once more. As the stakes heighten and the pressure escalates, Rhodes consults magic defrauder, Thaddeus Bradley [Freeman] and must take a leap of faith to see past the deception, in order to catch the performers in the act.
The reason this movie fails is that the mediocre writing ensures the story, twist, motives and explanations are all simplistic. Whether this was intentional, to cater to the lowest common denominator is debatable but watching the story unfold is like watching an idiot doing a wordsearch; the answers are blatantly obvious and their inability to figure it out faster is just painfully frustrating. But (sticking with the wordsearch metaphor) watching an idiot get irritated with a puzzle they can’t figure out is surprisingly rewarding; a smug reminder that people are dumb and you are not. The cast assembled is very impressive and they salvage what they can but the characters are so shallow with no justification, drive or motive for any of their actions. But the actors shouldn’t be praised too highly as there is absolutely no chemistry between any of them. Considering the compatibility (or incompatibility if you like) between Eisenberg and Harrelson in Zombieland, this is a really staggering accomplishment. None of the magicians were believable outside of the current scene, as if they had only just met every single time they appeared. I mean, if you’ve spent an entire year with a small group, planning an elaborate heist, keeping secret from anyone and everyone, you’d think there would be an obvious and emanating bond. On a more positive note, Brian Tyler’s self-indulgent pumping score was actually quite fitting, suiting both the on-stage illusions and off-stage drama.
**Spoilers throughout this paragraph**
While the dumb writing was the biggest flaw of the film, silly things irritated me the most. Things that would only bother a nit-picking critic or any actual filmmaker, things that completely take somebody out of the realm of credibility. Countless films (possibly even some of the greatest films) are responsible for perpetrating similar actions but I was so annoyed with them that I felt the need to highlight a few.. without seeing the film, this list is going to be an erratic mess but bear with me. Set design and production on a film like this needs to be smart, so having a big leather bound book called The Eye Of Horus which explains in poetic detail the nature of this magical fraternity with lovely pictures and borders is flat-out unrealistic. The tarot cards becoming some sort of electronic activation device for a super-spinning carousel that somehow reveals their headquarters.. or something, I dunno, it was pretty horseshit. I really wanted the carousel to take off and reveal to be aliens or something equally stupid; that would have been amazingly awful. Taking hours to install a floor-to-ceiling mirror, just to smash it with a sledge hammer, rather than simply lowering/raising it seemed excessive. The use of CGI for most of the magic also ruins the credibility of the trick. For example, during one of their sold-out shows, Atlas is conjuring giant bubbles seemingly from thin air. Ok, I can see how a magician could do that. Then, to enhance the trick, Henley jumps into the bubble and flies around the room, only for it to burst and Atlas to catch her in the audience. As far as stage magic goes, this is perfectly plausible. Similar tricks have been performed before but because the movie relies on fairly ropey CGI, the credibility is completely shot to hell. What’s more, they choose to reveal how certain tricks were done but not others, which means the really elaborate illusions (exploding into cash would be a good example) feel hollow. The list goes on. I appreciate these are minor quibbles but in a stupid movie posing as a clever film, these moronic developments and methods only staple the uninspired nature of the movie. Then there’s The Eye itself. I really had a problem with this. All the way up until the end we’re led to believe that The Eye is part of the deception, that it’s either a real organisation or possibly somebody using the concept to insight fear/awe. Plot twist, it’s real! Yey! Magic is real! The order of super magicians is a real thing! Wonderful! Wait.. hang on. What the fuck is the point or function of The Eye? What purpose do they serve? They seek out the world’s greatest magicians then invite them to their secret order, leaving their entire life behind to do.. what? Lazy shit like this (probably for the purposes of a sequel) is really bloody infuriating. Especially when it’s such an integral element to the film’s story.
It’s not that Now You See Me is offensively bad, it’s just annoyingly simple. A lot of the time, we forgive films for their simplicity and quirks but when you brand yourself as a smart thriller, you really need to deliver. Granted, it’s not an easy task and I appreciate that being exposed to so many cinematic stories and then analysing them in reviews, I’ve honed my senses to look for these kinds of developments. But the smartest person in the room is the person you should be trying to please. Yes, cinema is an escape but I’m not saying make the movie complicated, I’m saying make it clever. Just because some people don’t understand is no excuse to dumb things down. I’m getting a little off track here. Viewable from start to finish and praiseworthy in its technical execution but don’t expect anything other than a completely forgettable couple of hours.
5th July 2013
The Scene To Look Out For:
I rather liked Woody Harrelson’s introduction. The man is gifted with an exceptional amount of charm and charisma and having him play a previously successful hypnotist was an amusing premise in of itself. Watching him use his powers to con an adulterer out of cash to keep his secret quiet only made him more amusing. The whole thing takes place over three or four minutes but you immediately get a sense for the man, his motivations and his abilities.
**Giant spoiler.. basically ruins the film**
Mark Ruffalo plays agent Dylan Rhodes and for some reason he’s assigned the bank heist case. But there’s more to Rhodes than meets the eye. What starts off as a crappy, angry, two dimensional character becomes the orphaned son of a deceased magician who was debunked by Thaddeus Bradley. Ooooh, what a twist. Actually no, it’s not because you can pretty much tell from the get go what’s going to happen. The clues are so obvious that a child could figure it out. Actually, that’s not entirely true. As you start to piece things together you know that the dead magician (Shrike) is at the centre but as we’re never really told his age, it’s hard to tell if Ruffalo is playing Shrike or a close relative. What really gets me, is the final confrontation between Rhodes and Bradley. Bradley’s first expose led to the death of that magician and the orphaning of his only son. Now, don’t you think if you were responsible for a man’s death and the ruining of a child’s life, no matter how unscrupulous a human being you are, that their faces would be emblazoned on your mind for eternity? Evidently the writers didn’t believe so.
“I’m not sure about this. These guys.. they’re tricky”
In A Few Words:
“A very straight forward film that happily jumps from predictable setup to predictable conclusion, believing it’s the cool kid in class, when in fact, no one really cares”