By Nicholas Davies
Louis Leterrier’s ‘Now You See Me’ isn’t getting especially good reviews – it’s mostly being called solid but underaccomplished – but myself, I was happy to go along for the ride. Sure, the story is kind of slight once you arrive at the final twist, and there’s a lot more style than substance going on here, but with some top-notch actors putting their weight behind it and a series of pleasantly perplexing plot devices that force you to suspend your disbelief to heady heights, the film is enjoyable even if it isn’t going to be listed in anyone’s pantheon of excellence.
Basically what we have here is a crime caper – along the lines of an ‘Ocean’s’ flick, or maybe ‘The Italian Job’ – overlaid with some Robin Hood-like vigilante financial justice, a whole lot of magical sleight-of-hand, a bit of conspiracy-theory thinking and a sprinkling of revenge. Here’s what we’ve got: four accomplished magicians – masters of escape artistry, distraction, trickery, hypnosis and Vegas-style showmanship – are mysteriously brought together by an unidentified shadowy. A year later, they arrive on the world stage with a massive, sold-out, four-hand magic show. The main attraction? They’re going to rob a bank from the stage. Any bank. Right now.
This ludicrous but just-plain-fun premise launches the rest of the film – How did they do it? – as the FBI and Interpol get involved in trying to debunk the magic and get to the bottom of the theft. We’re repeatedly told about the most basic premise of magic tricks – performers use almost painfully simple methods of distracting the audience’s attention away from what’s really going on – and indeed, that precisely reflects the film’s own construction. We are forever a couple of steps behind the criminals – or are they criminals? – and the film keeps us engaged and off balance by throwing us clues so for a brief moment we think we’re smarter than the protagonists, only to find ourselves headed down the garden path once again.
‘Now You See Me’ rests on some solid performances – in the hands of less accomplished actors, the endless plot twists would probably just seem silly and the audience would give up before the first rabbit is pulled out of the first hat. Mark Ruffalo as the constantly confused FBI agent who just can’t keep up with what’s going on provides a solid centre for the movie, with Melanie Laurent as the French Interpol love interest who doesn’t mind believing in magic just a little bit and Woody Harrelson as a hilariously off-the-hook mentalist and hypnotist keeping things interesting. Half the pleasure of seeing Michael Caine and Morgan Freeman here is that they turn in performances that rely heavily on typecasting, but seeing them do their thing works well in this context.
You don’t NEED to see this movie, but it’s a perfectly engaging couple of hours in the dark.