By Evan Bevins
The Marietta Times
Misdirection is the key to not only the illusions shown on screen but also the story in “Now You See Me.”
Not unlike “Ocean’s Eleven” with magic, the movie seems to focus on a quartet of magicians brought together by a mysterious benefactor to form an alliance greater than the sum of its parts. As the Four Horsemen, they cap off their Las Vegas show by robbing a bank – in France.
The opening sequences that introduce the magicians establish them as talented, if troubled, individuals. Jesse Eisenberg (“The Social Network”) plays an illusionist who’s better at impressing people than connecting with them. Woody Harrelson (“Zombieland”) is a mentalist who uses his skills to entertain and blackmail. Isla Fisher (“Confessions of a Shopaholic”) is a former magician’s assistant carving her own path. And Dave Franco (“Chronicle”) doesn’t have a stage act, instead using his abilities as a con man and pickpocket.
They’re all interesting characters, spouting quick, clever, natural dialogue. But is the movie really about them?
Introduced as almost token antagonists, FBI agent Dylan Rhodes (Mark Ruffalo, “The Avengers”) and Interpol agent Alma Dray (Melanie Laurent, “Inglourious Basterds”) investigate the illusion/crime and start to creep into the spotlight. There’s a bit of a reverse Mulder-and-Scully dynamic as Rhodes is an angry, down-to-business type with little patience for Dray’s appreciation of magic and questions about the motivation of their quarries.
Then there’s Thaddeus Bradley (Morgan Freeman, “The Dark Knight Rises”), who makes his living revealing magicians’ secrets. He offers his assistance to the investigators, but it soon becomes apparent there may be a more personal connection. Or not. There are so many moving parts in “Now You See Me” that, while you don’t get lost, it’s hard to follow any particular thread too closely – which is what the writers and director Louis Letterier (“Clash of the Titans”) are counting on.
The film moves at a breakneck pace, dropping clues you didn’t know were clues and revealing some things even as it draws you deeper into the illusion. It all goes along with Eisenberg’s opening lines about how looking too closely can cause one to miss what’s really happening. The trade-off is that there’s not much apparent depth to the characters, although they are well enough conceived and displayed to provide at least some three-dimensionality. Focusing too much on any one might have tipped the filmmakers’ hands. The ultimate reveal isn’t as satisfying as the circumstances leading up to it, but getting there is more than half the fun. Everything fits with what’s gone before, and the audience’s questions are mostly answered. Even though most of the hows are explained, the apparent tidiness of the ending begins to unravel when you look at the whys. But that seems less due to sloppy writing and more a part of the overall illusion, one last, almost unnoticed twist.
The film is thankfully low on violence with the exception of one gruesome illusion. There are a few unfortunate outbursts of profanity, but it’s not pervasive.
“Now You See Me”
Starring: Jesse Eisenberg, Mark Ruffalo, Woody Harrelson, Morgan Freeman.
Directed by: Louis Letterier.
Rated: PG-13 for language, some action and sexual content.