For weeks, the cinema chain I pay my £14.99 to each month for unlimited movies has been teasing its clientele with the promise of a Secret Unlimited Screening. This one off, top secret screening would be open, free of charge to anyone with an Unlimited Card but the film was to be kept a secret. All we knew was that it would be a 12A Certificate movie and that it was being screened, across the country for one night only at 8:30pm, long ahead of its UK theatrical release. The brilliant marketing behind the scheme insured excitement, anticipation, discussion and a full cinema on a Monday evening for a movie which turned out to be Now You See Me. My initial reaction was one of slight disappointment as I was hoping for something like Pacific Rim which hadn’t been released anywhere else in the world for the selfish reason that a review would drive more traffic to this very page. I’d heard a couple of good things about Now You See Me from the States though so eagerly settled in for the next two hours.
Now you See Me is a heist movie in the vague style of the Oceans movies in that someone (a mastermind whose identity is unknown), draws together a group of experts in their fields to carry out heists on an epic scale. The difference here though is that the individuals chosen aren’t safe crackers, getaway drivers, contortionists or Matt Damon but are magicians. Their heists will involve magic and illusion to steal from banks and companies chosen by their puppet master. On the trail of the magicians is FBI agent Dylan Rhodes (Mark Ruffalo) who is teamed, much to his disliking, with Interpol agent Alma Dray (Melanie Laurent). Together the pair chases magicians Daniel (Jesse Eisenberg), Merritt (Woody Harrelson), Henly (Isla Fisher) & Jack (Dave Franco) across the United States from show to show, always remaining two steps behind their cunning and trickery.
The movie has a light hearted, comedic tone which draws the audience in while surreptitiously delivering a lesson about the world’s recent financial turmoil. It soon becomes clear that the magicians are out to take from those who have and give to those without and their Robin Hood style of magic brings them attention from huge adoring audiences, the media and of course the law. I enjoyed the magic and had fun trying to work out how tricks were done but felt a little bamboozled by areas of the plot. For a start, the foursome doesn’t know who they are working for and why and I instantly found this strange. Would they really be doing what they are doing for someone they don’t know and for reasons they cannot fathom? Occasionally the development is a little clunky but this is often masked by a slight of hand in the form of the dialogue. While the plot has a couple of holes, the dialogue is as sharp as a magicians saw. It’s witty, clever and often very funny.
The cast work well together and the actors appear to be having a lot of fun. Of the four magician leads, it’s Harrelson and Eisenberg who stand out. Whether due to character, acting or something else, they draw the viewer’s eye more than Fisher and Franco and rekindle a tremendous screen double act that was first seen in Zombieland. Woody Harrelson is cool, no matter what role he plays and Eisenberg seems to have be playing an adult for the first time in this movie. The two are also the funniest of the main actors though Franco and Fisher provide their own attractions. Dave Franco has appeared in several movies of late in forgettable, side roles but here he is more front and centre and equips himself well. Isla Fisher seems to have less to do than the other characters but is very watchable. Mark Ruffalo is great as the bemused and increasingly agitated FBI agent. He plays his role very well and is a lot of fun to watch. I’m always happy to see and especially hear Melanie Laurent in a film and she is good here but through no fault of her own, her character felt unnecessary. It was obvious within seconds of her appearance that she would develop as a love interest and this felt forced at every turn. I understand that Ruffalo’s character needed a partner to bounce off but why go down the same old route of initial distrust followed by romance? It’s a tired cliché.
Being a film about magic and magicians, the film doesn’t always show its hand but the magical parallels run deep. The movie is like one big magic trick in the sense that it keeps drawing your attention in one direction while performing the trick in the other. I guessed a lot of the ‘tricks’ but was really annoyed that I didn’t get the big closing number. All the way through, the film kept saying that magicians get you to look the other way and I fell for it. I was initially annoyed that I got so many of the smaller twists but in a way I think that the film might have been making these easy, much like a magician, to lure you in and hide what was really happening. To take the analogy further though, I also feel that like a magic trick, when things slow down, you can see cracks in the façade and sometimes it feels like the cards are dropped, leaving a mess all over the floor. On the whole, I think the plot worked but it was kept tied together with the thinnest of pocket handkerchiefs.
Something which didn’t work for me was the cinematography. I thought that this was messy and too busy and while working to distract the viewer, also made some scenes unwatchable. I have a problem with focusing on certain scenes in action movies, the ones which feature a cut every half a second where you can’t tell what’s going on. I felt the same about sections of this movie. There were times when the cutting was too rapid and the framing too juddery that I just couldn’t focus and there was no need for this. A good magician will hold his hand steady while performing a trick. If he’s shaking his arm all over the place then you know something is array. Another problem I had was with the score. This, more than anything else in the movie, reminded me of the TV show Hustle. I used to love the conman TV series in which a group of highly skilled con artists, robbed from the rich and undeserving while running circles around the police in a funny way in stylish locations while their moral compass always guided them home. Wait, hang on. At times the movie feels like Hustle the Movie and while this isn’t terrible, it’s been done and done well. A further problem was with the car chase which felt totally unrealistic and unnecessary though was obviously inserted for a reason. I just feel as though that reason could have been dealt with in a calmer, more realistic manner, more suited to the general tone of the movie. As always, I also had a problem with the product placement which occurred several times in the early stages.
Overall Now You See Me is a decent heist thriller. There are some very good comedy moments and the performances are good but it rushes around, afraid to slow down in case the audience spot the ace hidden up its sleeve. Half the fun of the film is trying to work it out and in this regard it manages to both surprise and let the audience guess a little for themselves, ultimately satisfying both of its audience’s desires.