Clever 'Gotcha' Not Enough to See Now You See Me
- Jeffrey Huston Crosswalk.com Contributing Writer
- 2013 30 May
DVD Release Date: September 3, 2013
Theatrical Release Date: May 30, 2013
Rating: PG-13 (for some language, intense action, and sexual content)
Run Time: 116 min
Director: Louis Leterrier
Cast: Jesse Eisenberg, Mark Ruffalo, Woody Harrelson, Isla Fisher, Morgan Freeman, Melanie Laurent, Dave Franco, Michael Caine
Some films – regardless of how well they're made – ultimately rise or fall for the viewer via the subject matter itself. Now You See Me is a perfect example.
Despite being a handsomely mounted piece of Hollywood entertainment, if you’re really not into the glitz-spectacles of Vegas-styled magic shows then Now You See Me isn’t going to cast its spell on you. There’s a lot to see here – and even more hidden to look for – and it’s all very smartly constructed. But it's just a construct. This plays like the movie equivalent of a CBS procedural: high in concept and production artifice, while low – or at least simple – in character depth.
The plot-heavy machinations and labyrinth slight-of-hand narrative unspool with glossy precision, but the characters are just machinations as well. Whatever depth they have is derived from a talented cast committing to the material as much as possible, even as the dialogue they’re given is a bit too clever and slick for its own good. And then there’s how the whole resolution feels like a cop-out, but we’ll get to that.
Now You See Me is the story of four moderately successful magicians who are mysteriously assembled by an unknown benefactor for the high stakes purpose of robbing banks. The ingenious catch is that the heists are a part of their high-dollar magic shows, billed as The Four Horseman. This puts the difficult onus on the FBI to charge them of a crime committed by means of magic – something that can’t hold up in court. The thefts are happening yet they can’t be proven.
Each magician, as you’d imagine, has his or her own forte. Daniel Atlas (Jesse Eisenberg, To Rome With Love) is a traditional showman; Merrit McKinney (Woody Harrelson, The Hunger Games) works in the so-called psychic powers of Mentalism; Henley Reeves (Isla Fisher, The Great Gatsby) is Atlas's former protégé turned escape artist; and up-and-comer Jack Wilder (Dave Franco, Warm Bodies) uses his talents as a low-rent shakedown conman.
There are four other players in this game as well: an investor (Michael Caine, The Prestige), a debunker (Morgan Freeman, Oblivion), and the two investigators – Dylan Rhodes (Mark Ruffalo, The Avengers) and Alma Dray (Melanie Laurent, Inglorious Basterds) – tasked to break the case and bring the illusionists to justice.
The way events twist and turn, these four outsiders go from being aligned with to against each other (and back again) at various times, which creates some interesting dynamic shifts. Adding to the mystery is how The Four Horseman themselves are just pawns in this whole scheme. The anchor through it all is Rhodes (played with riveting tenacity by Ruffalo), whose mission to take down the Four Horseman evolves from professional determination to personal obsession.
The film’s central conceit remains tight and focused for the first half, with an assumption that the final payoff will reveal practical realties behind the elaborate illusion. Where the film starts to flirt with overreach is the introduction of a centuries old sect called The Eye, a secret fraternity of magicians that exercise truly mystical powers.
While the heist illusions do ultimately remain grounded, the whole element of The Eye goes from pointless distraction to ridiculous revelation. Furthermore, when the mysterious benefactor is exposed, the satisfaction of that "a-ha" moment is brief for anyone who begins to consider its implications. Given how rushed the film’s conclusion is after that reveal, the filmmakers are clearly hoping we don’t give it a second thought.
The problem is that the movie begs us to rethink in precise detail everything we've seen. And when we do, it starts to not make sense, at least in many of the details. While the final twist is itself valid, it makes many actions, reactions, and private emotions by certain characters along the way – one in particular – very illogical. So the twist ends up being a rip-off, an all-too-easy (even if unpredictable) answer, which ultimately makes the deception inauthentic rather than earned.
The net effect is the feeling that the filmmakers constructed a mystery so complicated that they wrote themselves into an impossible corner. Instead of finding a way to make it foolproof (like they needed to), they simply came up with a clever "gotcha" and left it at that. And clever though it is, too many plot holes are left in its wake.
- Drugs/Alcohol Content: Moments of drinking. A moment of drunkenness.
- Language/Profanity: Multiple variations of the S-word throughout. 5 variations of the A-word. Two mild profanities. Four uses of the Lord’s name in vain.
- Sexual Content/Nudity: A passionate make-out scene; they begin to take clothes off. A spoken reference to a tranny. Three sexually coarse phrases used. A "cork/cork screw" innuendo discussion. A spoken reference to masturbation.
- Violence/Other: Some fight scenes. A woman struggles while trapped and drowning. Blood in water after a school of piranhas attack. Insinuations of actual magic.
Publication date: May 30, 2013
Jeff Huston is a writer/director/editor for Steelehouse Productions, a film & video production company in Tulsa, Oklahoma. He also publishes a movie blog that can be found at icantunseethatmovie.com, and is a member of the Oklahoma Film Critics Circle. In 2015, his short film Pink Shorts was a finalist in HBO's Project Greenlight competition, and was one of six winners in that show's online "Greenie Awards."