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Now You See Me

Now You See Me

By Jonahh Oestreich • October 24th, 2013
Static Mass Rating: 4/5
Entertainment One

Release date (UK): October 28th, 2013
Running time: 115 minutes

Director: Louis Leterrier
Writers: Ed Solomon, Boaz Yakin, Edward Ricourt

Cast: Jesse Eisenberg, Mark Ruffalo, Woody Harrelson, Isla Fisher, Dave Franco, Mélanie Laurent, Morgan Freeman, Michael Caine

Now You See Me

What we see and hear in Louis Leterrier’s new film hasn’t much to do with the carnival art of magicians who pull a rabbit out of a hat or perform other more or less fascinating acts. Suspending disbelief is nonetheless required, not only because Now You See Me breaks the holiest of the craft’s rules: Don’t reveal your tricks.

Because that’s a trick in itself. Movies are all about illusion and therefore those about magic rely on an extra layer of deceit and distraction — a risky endeavor as absurdity’s always one twist around the corner; in other words, story matters.

Maybe that’s why the writers try to make us believe it’s actually a film about the perfect heist and a modern Robin Hood tale at once. Four illusionists, each with their own area of magic expertise but far from being celebrities of the trade, are recruited by an enigmatic stranger to perform exactly three audacious acts in three American cities. Live and on stage, they’re to rid the super-rich of their funds and distribute the money among the audience.

Their first act, seemingly robbing a Parisian bank while obviously performing in Las Vegas, earns them hero-like fame as well as the attention of FBI and Interpol. From there, a bizarre cat-and-mouse game unfolds that involves a lot of “magic”, dark secrets, hidden agendas and an occult society.

The plot is a thick rope of thinly threaded side stories without focus, or so it seems. Like a good magic trick, Now You See Me is actually Now-you-don’t con artistry that spreads clues and hints but remains elusive throughout. The touch of ambitious morale is omnipresent but subtle, hidden in slick action, effects and suggestive dialogue. When ex-magician Thaddeus Bradley (Morgan Freeman) says “The closer Now You See Meyou think you are, the less you’ll actually see”, it feels like an instruction on how to watch the film — and the characters.

The onslaught of eight major players sets the stage for a grand game of “Nobody and nothing is as it seems” and the characters don’t seem much like anything, but apparently the wizardry is in the details and the film deliberately leaves it to us to figure out the details, that is, if we notice them in the first place.

The four wealth-spreading heroes (Jesse Eisenberg, Isla Fisher, Woody Harrelson and Dave Franco) call themselves The Four Horsemen, a hint that each of them plays but a part in a bigger scheme which is plotted by someone else. Though the film doesn’t pick up the biblical card, the plot alludes to an occult back story (with four Tarot cards at the beginning and some mythical references later on) without really telling it — ultimately, it remains an illusion, too.

The scuffle between ex-magician turned debunker Bradley and the benefactor of The Four Horsemen (Michael Caine) serves as a kind of quiet point in the fast-paced razzmatazz, and reveals more about what’s going on than the performances of Now You See MeThe Four Horsemen. It’s an intriguing game of giant egos – forced into the light by something or someone who stays in the dark. Caine and Freeman play their parts with the aloof dignity of the old school which makes their characters seem pivotal — also a trick, of course.

Like the characters of FBI agent Rhodes (Mark Ruffalo) and his French Interpol colleague Alma Dray (Mélanie Laurent) who seem to function as the swaying poles of belief and disbelief. Always one step behind the Four Horsemen, they slowly catch up with the ostensible imagination and foresight of the fugitive illusionists, all the while dropping the clues that matter.

One of those clues being that Now You See Me, despite coming off as a somewhat light-headed story with a lot of style and not too much coherence, actually has something to say. The disguise of an extremely entertaining summer movie with a catchy message might be a smart trick just as well. It’s probably better not to get too close, and put the left brain to sleep for the duration, because in the background there lurks a dark truth about true magic which might only reveal itself if you let go.

Now You See Me

Jonahh Oestreich

Jonahh Oestreich

One of the Editors in Chief and our webmaster, Jonahh has been working in the media industry for over 20 years, mainly in television, design and art. As a boy, he made his first short film with an 8mm camera and the help of his father. His obsession with (moving) images and stories hasn’t faded since.

You can follow Jonahh on Twitter @Jonahh_O.

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