Director: Louis Leterrier
Cast: Mark Ruffalo, Morgan Freeman, Woody Harrelson, Isla Fisher, Michael Caine, Dave Franco, Jesse Eisenberg, Common
RunTime: 1 hr 56 mins
Rating: PG13 (Some Coarse Language)
Released By: Shaw
Official Website: https://www.facebook.com/NowYouSeeMeMovie
Opening Day: 6 June 2013
Synopsis: The Four Horsemen, a magic super-group led by the charismatic Atlas (Jesse Eisenberg), perform a pair of high-tech magic shows, first astonishing audiences by robbing a bank on another continent, and then exposing a white-collar criminal and funneling his millions into the audience members' bank accounts. FBI Special Agent Dylan (Mark Ruffalo) is determined to make the magicians pay for their crimes-and to stop them before they pull off what promises to be an even more audacious heist. But he's forced to partner with Alma (Melanie Laurent), an Interpol detective about whom he is instantly suspicious. Out of desperation he turns to Thaddeus (Morgan Freeman), a famed magic debunker, who claims the bank heist was accomplished using disguises and video trickery. One thing Dylan and Alma agree on is that the Horsemen must have an outside point person, and that finding him (or her) is key to ending the magicians' crime spree. Could it be Thaddeus? Or Alma? Or could it really be...magic? As pressure mounts and the world awaits the Horsemen's spectacular final trick, Dylan and Alma race to find an answer. But it soon becomes painfully clear that staying one step ahead of these masters of illusion is beyond the skills of any one man-or woman.
Magic is a tricky thing: it holds your interest as long as it remains inexplicable, inevitably going south when the smoke subsides, the mirrors are dismantled or when you finally see past the distraction.
Some of the most striking scenes from this fast-paced caper Now You See Me involve Jesse Eisenberg’s illusionist J. Daniel Atlas, a fast-speaking ‘control freak’ with extraordinarily deft fingers. Flipping through a deck of cards and asking a volunteer to randomly pick and remember one, it’s momentarily impressive when the card she picks out is not only reflected on the exterior of a building behind Atlas, but is the exact same one that we, the audience, had in mind. Abracadabra, guys! Granted, this is more or less just sneaky cinematography, but this time it's used to great effect.
Isla Fisher is Atlas’ ex-assistant, flirty redhead Henley Reeves, whose main number involves being dropped into a water-filled container, handcuffed and chained, with a minute to escape before a horde of piranhas are unleashed upon her. Meanwhile, street hustlers Merritt McKinney (Woody Harrelson) and Jack Wilder (Dave Franco) practice the useful arts of mind-reading and pickpocketing/lockbreaking respectively, both experts in their respective areas.
These four chosen ones receive Tarot cards with a marking that is supposedly an emblem of an ancient Egyptian sect of magicians known as The Eye. A year later they emerge as the Four Horsemen, a polished team of magicians performing at glitzy hotels in Las Vegas backed by a millionaire benefactor Arthur Tressler (Michael Caine). The trick that catches the authorities’ attention, namely that of Dylan Rhodes’ (Mark Ruffalo), involves robbing a bank in France by teleporting an audience member from Vegas directly into a Parisian bank vault in a matter of seconds. Is it magic or is it crime? Could it be both?
So begins a cat-and-mouse chase, with Rhodes and his Interpol partner Alma Dray (Mélanie Laurent) perpetually several steps behind the four prestidigitators. The investigators can't seem to help being ridiculed despite breathing down the magicians' necks. Rounding up the starstudded ensemble is Morgan Freeman as Thaddeus Bradley, who has made a career of debunking magic shows and seems to have his finger on the modus operandi of the Horsemen.
Even when they’re caught for questioning, the four remain unruffled, even arrogant. There are a few “how did they do that” moments in the movie: one of which is probably when Atlas transfers his handcuffs over to Rhodes in a blink of an eye, while gloating about how the first rule of magic is that you need to be the smartest guy in the room.
This same rule probably applies to a film like this, in order for it to succeed. Well, either that, or move fast enough and succeed at distracting the audience. Now You See Me seems to have been directed with the aim of mimicking a sleight of hand: keep the camera moving constantly, and you may just be able to sneak something from under the audience’s noses. Having previously helmed the Transporter movies and Clash of the Titans, French director Louis Leterrier is no stranger to action films, and it shows. That said, the script would have used a boost in wit. Some lines, even when delivered by notable veterans like Freeman and Caine, fall flat.
On its exterior, Now You See Me may remind you of Ocean’s Eleven/ Twelve/ Thirteen, but it loses out on character development by not leveraging on the respective skill sets of the four magicians, rendering them more or less forgettable. While there was no heist in Ocean’s that would have succeeded without the contributions of each member, the Four Horsemen are easily substitutable.
When you wade past the red herrings and reach the grand unveil near the end of the film, you may be surprised at the twist, but more likely unimpressed. Yet for all its disappointments, the cast put in such committed performances that you can’t help but get pulled into the vortex of frenetic energy and flashy deceptions. Eisenberg is unexpectedly credible as an illusionist, applying a healthy layer of charm and confidence over his earlier outings in The Social Network and Zombieland. Caine’s turn in the film is impressive but brief, and inadvertently reminds you of 2006’s The Prestige, a superior film about magic that delves much deeper into technicalities of a well-orchestrated magic trick at the expense of unraveling its characters.
(Now You See Me is a fast-paced heist flick that manages to entrance and entertain in spite of its obvious flaws, keeping you eager enough to uncover the secret behind the con. Remember: “The closer you think you are, the less you’ll see.”)
Review by Wong Keng Hui