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Now You See Me

May 31, 2013
Now You See Me

I’ve said it before, and I’m certain to say it again: I love heist movies. There’s a satisfaction in watching a meticulously crafted plan tick off like a Swiss watch along with a sense of wonder when something unexpected happens, only to be revealed as a further complication of the actions set in motion at the beginning. It’s no wonder that David Mamet uses Ricky Jay over and over in his con and heist films; a good caper is, at heart, a magic trick. And so stage magic provides a natural backdrop for Now You See Me, a fast, fun ride presented by action director Louis Leterrier from a script by Ed Solomon, Boaz Yakin, and newcomer Edward Ricourt.

In a bit of a departure from the form, we are not granted partial access into the workings of the heist by the team itself. We do see them assembled by a shadowy hooded figure — J. Daniel Atlas (Jesse Eisenberg) working a kind of close-up street set, possibly for television; Henley Reeves (Isla Fisher), his former assistant, running her own stage show; mentalist Merritt McKinney (Woody Harrelson) shaking down tourists; and pickpocket Jack Wilder (Dave Franco) getting by on his own particular skills — but after that we get very little direct access to their schemes.

Instead we jump forward a year to find the team — now billing themselves as “The Four Horsemen” — kicking off a three-show spectacular in Las Vegas with the backing of financier Arthur Tressler (Michael Caine). As the climax to their act they pick a random guy from the crowd and “teleport” him to his back in Paris, have him leave a signed card in a pallet of euro bills, and then produce the money itself from the ventilation system of their auditorium.

It gets such a great response that it’s possible to miss the fact that the trick doesn’t really have an ending. Specifically, what’s the deal with the card? Within the context of a stage magic show it’s obviously meant to serve as “proof” that this random guy was really in Paris, but they never actually show that part.

Indeed, their real audience is outside their theater: grizzled yet somehow unbelievably buffoonish FBI agent Dylan Rhodes (Mark Ruffalo), ingenue Interpol agent Alma Dray (Mélanie Laurent), and of course us in the movie theater watching the sleight-of-hand-and-camera that Leterrier executes through the Horsemen. And since he didn’t have the team tell us how the heist really went down we get an explanation courtesy of professional debunker Thaddeus Bradley (Morgan Freeman), who stands to make quite a bit from a television special exposing the Horsemen’s tricks.

From here the Horsemen’s acts get considerably less intricate, but the focus has shifted to the meta-act they’re playing for the FBI, and the movie settles into the comfortable rhythms of an action caper. It isn’t the tightest puzzle-box plot — indeed, there are large areas that are left vague and woo-ey, and then lampshaded with an offhand line of dialogue about some things being better left mysterious — but Leterrier keeps the pace up enough to forgive it for the most part. Brian Tyler’s score certainly doesn’t hurt, either.

But what really keeps the film going through its second half is the great character work. Each actor manages to craft a distinctive personality, and they all interact smoothly. The banter among the Horsemen is fast and witty, and Rhodes and Atlas have some great face-offs. Even as the caperish elements start to fade out it’s just so fun watching these guys at work that you can sail right through the closing credits and not even mind that that they made your watch vanish but never brought it back.

Worth It: yes.
Bechdel Test: fail.

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