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Now You See Me Review: Casting a Tricky Spell
Now You See Me starts out by showing us four magicians at work in different parts of the country. Each have a different style: J. Daniel Atlas (Jesse Eisenberg) is a street magician who does card tricks to impress women, though he’s not great at making things work with them after that. Henley (Isla Fisher) is a stage magician in the tradition of Houdini, though she ups the ante by adding the danger of piranhas to the old water torture cell. Jack (Dave Franco) makes a living by offering money and then stealing the wallets of the people who challenge him, and Merritt (Woody Harrelson) is a mentalist who blackmails his audience to keep certain events forgotten.
The only thing these four characters have in common is magic. Until they all receive a mysterious tarot card with a time on it an address in New York City. When they all show up at the address a grand trick is revealed to them. They combine their talents and become the Four Horsemen.
We don’t see the magicians again until a year later, when they’re performing on a grand stage in Las Vegas. They tell the audience that they’re going to rob a bank in front of the audience by teleporting someone in, and just to make it harder, they pick a bank in France. The audience thinks they’re joking, until they actually send him there, and once it starts raining euros in the theater, the audience wholeheartedly belongs to the Four Horseman.
The police in the US launch an investigation led by Detective Dylan Rhodes (Mark Ruffalo) and the French send an Interpol agent, Alma Dray (Melanie Laurent) to help him, because the French bank isn’t pleased to lose that money, even if it was a cool trick.
The Horsemen are unrepentant about their theft, and the police have to release them because of lack of evidence. This makes Detective Rhodes even more determined to catch them.
Thaddeus Bradley (Morgan Freeman) is a debunker of magic tricks and magicians. He shows Dylan how the Four Horsemen committed the crime. The explanation he gives is almost as ridiculous as if they’d actually teleported someone into the bank for real.
Though the movie seems like you’ll follow the Four Horsemen through all their adventures, we end up shadowing hulk detective and he soon takes over as the true main character. This is a bait and switch, but there are good reasons for it, not the least of which is that following the Four Horsemen too closely would give too much of the game away. It works for the most part, because we get enough time in the beginning of the film to know and like them, and besides, who wants to see every trick from behind the scenes?
Even in a movie about magicians, Now You See Me stretches the reader’s suspension of disbelief to the breaking point. Part of the issue seems to be that the film can’t decide whether it wants to be about stage magic or real magic masquerading as trickery. There are some tricks in the movie that just can’t be pulled off due to annoying factors like physics and gravity and stuff like that. I’m all for bending reality, but I need a reason for that bend to occur. If Now You See Me wanted its audience members to buy into the fact that somewhere along the line the Four Horsemen learned real magic, then I would’ve, because I liked the film. But it keeps insisting that I take all the tricks as illusion and deception with no proof, and I couldn’t buy some of them as such.
And then there’s the Eye business, which is a minor subplot in the film but really needed a lot more exploration and fleshing out. The Eye is a secret cabal of mysterious magicians, who work for good causes, but we’re never really told too much about them, and yet entry into the cabal is what the Four Horsemen get if they pull off their caper. It’s a woefully underdeveloped yet important plot thread, but maybe we’ll get more information if there’s a sequel.
There are other, spoilier logic issues, but I won’t touch them here. While annoying, I didn’t find most of them a problem while I was watching the film, it was only after the movie when I thought about them that I realized I’d been tricked.
The end reveal is the thing in these caper movies, so I won’t say too much about it except that there are a lot of clues earlier in the movie if you know what to look for, though most of them you’ll only see in hindsight. The deck is stacked against the audience in several situations, so don’t feel bad if you don’t figure it out, you’re not meant to see the answer until Now You See Me presents it in a grand reveal.