Now You See Me - The Twisted World of Magic

Ensign Lestat's Film Log, 05/10/2013

It was inevitable that I'd sit down to watch 'Now You See Me'. From the title itself we are privy to the knowledge that this story is based in the world of magic. Magic intertwined with crime, the trailers showed us.

Be warned, spoilers ahead.

The ensemble cast is led by Jesse Eisenberg's J. Daniel Atlas the cocky, self-confident magician, followed by veteran mentalist Merritt McKinney (Woody Harrelson), escape-artist Henley Reeves (Isla Fisher) and up and coming illusionist Jack Wilder (Dave Franco).

They're all down in the dumps when we are introduced to them. Dan is using his abilities to attract the ladies, Henley works in a club, Merritt is swindling people and Jack is a thief. We witness these events ostensibly through the eyes of a mysterious person (deliberately ambiguous when it comes to age and gender, but not so much the height).

All four get a tarot card inviting them to an abandoned apartment, and from there life changes for them.

We next see these good people up on stage in front of an audience of 100s, if not thousands, ending a spectacular evening with a heist. The 4 Horsemen is their new title and they rob the Credit Republican bank, or rather, outsource the deed to a very willing audience member. This leads to them all being arrested, though only two of them are questioned - Dan and Merritt.
The 4 Horsemen - Jack Wilder, J. Daniel Atlas, Henley Reeves and Merritt McKinney.
We are finally introduced to the true protagonists of this story - Detective Dylan Rhodes (Mark Ruffalo) and Melanie Laurent's Alma Dray from InterPol. The film is more interested in following the skeptical detective than the four magicians. The detective does in fact make for a more compelling character - why is he so against magic? Why is he intent on bringing down this group? Why is he generally so suspicious of everything and everyone?

Lots of whys later, the quad go up for another show and blatantly rob their own sponsor, Arthur Tressler (Michael Caine) off his not-so-hard-earned money. Outraged at this betrayal, the sponsor then hires his old nemesis, Thaddeus Bradley (Morgan Freeman) who he threatened not two scenes before, to spy and bring down the team. So, now the magicians have the cops and a hitman (not exactly) on their tails.
Caine and Freeman - the two veterans face-off.
The majority of the film takes place in between the team's 2nd and 3rd shows. Rhodes proves to be a step behind these Horsemen at every given moment, while Alma seems more interested in how the magic is done and the reasons behind the Horsemen's actions. She mentions a cult named 'The Eye', an exclusive group of magicians who transcend the levels of the mere performers that inhabit the world's stages.

So, by now it is obvious to us that the Horsemen are on a mission, dictated by the mysterious hooded person who hired them and gave them the resources and access to conduct these mesmerising spectacles. But who is this hooded person?

Nemesis Thaddeus plants the notion in Rhodes' mind that perhaps there is an ulterior motive behind Dray's involvement with this case. She's just a researcher, so what is she doing in a foreign land and out in the field? The plot is supposed to thicken.
Rhodes and Dray are suspicious minds.
Finally, using the Horsemen's own tracking technology, Rhodes locates their hideout (still in the same apartment). The others flee, but the only one left is Jack. He evades the cops, before crashing and burning in his car.

This is followed by the team's final performance - a mesmeric spectacle of light and illusion. The cops converge on the scene, which the cops believe is a front for the Horsemen to steal the safe of a huge conglomerate, Elcorn (or something of the sort).

The cops do not get them. They find the safe but it doesn't have the money. Where is the money? It's in the car of Thaddeus, who is promptly arrested.

This three act play of the Horsemen were all crimes, and they were intended for a purpose. As I said, this is a spoiler-filled analysis, so here comes the twist in the tale.

While Thaddeus explains how the Horsemen did it to Rhodes, he tries to establish motive. He can't, but he does know that they had an inside man in the FBI. That inside man, it is revealed to us, is Rhodes. Why, one asks. The epilogue explains it all.

It all comes down to a magician named Shrike. His name is brought up throughout the film, especially how Thaddeus debunked his magic and his final act ended with his drowning in a safe at the bottom of the Hudson River. Shrike was Rhodes' father. And Rhodes has spent his entire life (and his resources as an FBI agent) to bring down those who destroyed his family.
Thaddeus pays for his past sins.
Thaddeus gets the worst of it (lands up in jail) because it was he who started the landslide. By forcing Shrike into a comeback, Shrike ended up in a bad situation, made worse by a lot of other circumstances. Elcorn (or whatever the name was) cut corners and made a safe of poor material, it warped in the water. Shrike's family couldn't thereby get their money from the bank Credit Republican. And finally, they were denied insurance by Tressler. All these entities are therefore hit by the Horsemen on the orders of their unknown benefactor, later revealed to be the son of Shrike, the person with a lifetime's grudge held against these people and who finally brings them down despite his apparent efforts to capture the Horsemen.

And what do the Horsemen get out of it? Entry into the Eye apparently, the aforementioned exclusive group of magicians who do more than just magic.

The only cog in Rhodes' wheel was Dray, who is the audience stand-in in the epilogue to explain all of Rhodes' actions. By cog I mean love interest, and particularly naive considering she does not turn Rhodes in to the InterPol once she learns his story.

I thoroughly enjoyed the film - really I did. Up until the great revelation anyway. There's a fair bit of humour, a fair bit of action, a few chases and something of a heist. The trouble is, and this is why I think they should just ban extended trailers and just stick to simple teaser-esque ones, I believed the whole film revolved around the planning and execution of a heist, and the subsequent investigation into how it was done. That's what the trailer seemed to imply. I was imagining a film like 'The Score' or 'Ocean's Eleven' - entertaining films but interesting all the same. And involving a whole new community - magicians.
As heists go, this one is not the most spectacular.
In that sense the film fell woefully short. It was confused and attempting to pack in way too much into a short time-frame. Director Louis Leterrier and his writing team all have a number of action films on their CVs. This made a huge impact on the final product. The film is pacy. Each scene is imbued with a sense of tension and momentum. The trouble is that most of the film is expository. The detectives learn everything (almost) through what Thaddeus tells them. Of course, this is negated by the fact that Rhodes already knows it all.

There is too much going on - we are wondering who the benefactor is, what Thaddeus is up to, what the team will get out of this, if there is really 'the Eye', why these heists, who Alma Dray is and if she's the benefactor, then why, and what is Rhodes' problem. There's a few more in there that I can't remember now. Right there is the problem. Where it should have been streamlined it is not. We like colourful characters, who have gray areas, but this film is unable to give the characters any depth at all because they're not on-screen enough. It's a tragedy, really, considering the concept is good.
Too many players and storylines. But I love this 'Avengers'-esque poster featuring the key players of the film.
My grouse with the film, or one of them, anyway, is the fact that, even if the team know about 'the Eye', their entry into it seems almost, well, uncalled for. What have they done? They used what knowledge they have and combined it with the information provided by the benefactor.

Here's what I mean. When the four of them converge on the apartment and trigger the projectors, Henley says that they're looking at blueprints. So, essentially, someone's done the hard work of putting these shows together, they are just there to execute. They're actors, working to a pre-written script. That was my understanding of it. In which case they have not done anything spectacular or out-of-the-box to get into an elite club. What's the point? How will they contribute there?
They're down and out till they end up working as a team. All this to get into 'The Eye'. But do they deserve it?
It's this point that has made the central conceit so difficult for me to swallow. Had they, themselves, conducted a heist of a spectacular nature (even if it was only off a private billionaire like Tressler), and had thereby caught the attention of an elite club, I'd be cool with that. But nada! What if they'd been poor actors and had ruined the whole thing? How would Rhodes have got his revenge then?

And let's not even start with the fact that there is an elite club in this film that lets in (or is ruled by) a man set upon only revenge. Rhodes creates a persona for this one purpose. It's such an old-fashioned cinematic device that it just doesn't work in the modern world.

I think it would have been fun if Alma Dray turned out to be the benefactor, but the forceful way the dialogue suggested it was her made it evident that she was not.

My issues with the film aside, it still makes for a wonderfully entertaining bit of cinema. As I mentioned, the up-tempo makes its run-time feel shorter, and keeps you interested.

Acting-wise everyone is okay. There's really no stand-out, it's not the kind of film that requires it. Caine and Freeman are great in their curtailed roles. Ruffalo is empathetically believable, as always. I love Laurent's fresh enthusiasm. Her acting seems really natural, almost effortless.

I don't like Jesse Eisenberg. So shoot me, but he should never have been given an Oscar nomination for his role in 'The Social Network'. He always acts like himself, and here too it's more of the same. The other Horsemen are well within their roles. I like the innocence Dave Franco brings to this role. He's older than his character, but comes across as believably young - at times mesmerised as well as concerned.
Dave Franco as Jack Wilder. That look of awe might as well have been permanently plastered on his face
But he's good all the same.
I'll be honest now and say that one of the main reasons I sat down to watch this film was because of the younger Franco. I don't know when it was that I first spotted him, but he's caught my eye ever since. He's fabulously good-looking, but his role choices have been mainly as side-characters, usually bad guys or anti-heroes. I think he's going to be in the shadow of his multi-talented brother for a while, unless he begins looking for more indie and edgy roles. What that means, only he will know.

His character Jack has little to do in the whole film, but he's the only Horseman who gets a proper action set in the film. And what a set it is. Those action films on the director's CV really helped him in creating an energetic sequence. Franco's physicality also benefited the scene. That sequence is by far the best in the whole film, but yet never feels out of place.
The energetic action set featuring Dave Franco, a bunch of cards, a stick and an electronic sink. Definitely a highlight of the film. Franco should think of auditioning for any future roles for the X-Men character Gambit - he can certainly pull of the physicality of the character, and perhaps even some of the charm.
Had it not been for Franco I may still have watched the film, but perhaps not with such enthusiasm. I like heist films and it's been a while since a good and interesting one came along. A heist for a good cause would be a good topic to cover. The sequel has been announced, and the return of the main cast has been somewhat confirmed. What will we see when the Horsemen return?


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