I kind of skipped past Now You See Me when it was released. Not sure why exactly. Something seemed “off” about it. It appeared to be one of those crime heist movies but with an Ocean’s Eleven vibe. Which is kind of what it half is. It probably could have been exactly that too. But it’s only half that. Click below for my words about this film.
The plot to Now You See Me would be nice and simple if I was fully sure who the protagonist was. See, on the one hand we have a story about four magicians who have been invited to a secret location to view a special effect in the form of a needlessly indecipherable blueprint which has told them some plan of a thing. Turns out they’re gonna rob a load of banks using their magic shows as a simultaneous cover/confession. You see, to admit they had pulled off the heist would require the FBI to admit that magic exists, due to the impossible nature of the act itself.
On the other hand we have a story of an FBI agent and his semi-mysterious French Interpol agent partner trying to solve the mystery of the bank heists. They are really the film’s protagonists but the film is constantly flipping back and forth between both groups that your left a little bit unsure who you’re rooting for. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Films can easily balance this sort of stuff but you still, really, have to know what the main story is. Is it the story of some thieves being all charming and elusive to pull off the ultimate heist, or is it the story of a detective trying to unravel a mystery? Now You See Me mixes this up in a manner where no-one is morally in the wrong and the story’s focus is constantly shifting. So a shades of grey story then.
This can work and I’m relatively fine with it. The trouble is that the story is so split down the middle that there’s barely any actual character moments. The magicians, Daniel Atlas (Jesse Eisenberg), Merrit (Woody Harrelson), Henley (Isla Fisher) and Jack (Dave Franco), have pretty much one, maybe 2 scenes of actual character focused dialogue. As in a scene where they aren’t discussing the actual actions of what they’re doing but are discussing themselves as people. Although one of those characters isn’t even present for one of those scenes… so yeah. Meanwhile Agents Dylan (Mark Ruffalo) and Alma (Melanie Laurent) share only one scene of human interaction not relating to catching the thieves. There’s plenty of interactions to inform of character traits and personalities but very little to make the characters feel richer than the basic frames they are presented as.
As far as the film’s pace and entertainment value goes now You See me is pretty good really. Each set piece and magic show is approached differently, making me wonder how much time these guys had to plan these tricks. There’s a few stunt and action sequences thrown in with a stand-out involving Dave Franco using his slight of hand skills to outfox Dylan and another FBI agent in a fight. This all leads to a car chase which is later shown to have been part of a large scale magic trick. Whilst I can criticise that I really didn’t care too much about the characters in general the action sequences were well enough done and fully took into consideration the premise to enhance these scenes to the point where they more became roller-coaster rides. A ride I was pretty happy to be on.
This all brings me back to Ocean’s Eleven. The remake primarily. That film isn’t a smart film. It isn’t really that good a film in general. But it’s a fun ride and a good exercise in pure entertainment and mystery. Now You See Me manages a decent attempt at keeping you guessing enough that you’ll be happy to move onto the next scene in the hopes of spotting another clue to just how all of this is being pulled off, and, who may really be behind it all. I’ve said before (recently on the last Critapocalypse podcast… hint hint) that a film can be dumb provided you don’t feel like the decisions of the characters or the progression of the plot are what is making the film dumb. Now You See Me is just on the right side of dumb. We don’t know enough about the characters as people by the end but we get their motivations and set pieces are varied enough to avoid attention fatigue. Also, the film has Morgan Freeman in a sort of bitter James Randi character and that’s cool with me. James Randi is cooler though.
Really, now You See Me is a decent enough crime adventure film that just gets a little too unfocused. I’ve seen worse heist movies, The Italian Job remake for example. It’s the kind of film I could easily understand one person loving and another hating. It all depends on how much of one thing you’d prefer. If you prefer strong characters and an in depth procedural crime investigation this film isn’t for you. Seven this ain’t. It’s not even particularly creative in it’s direction and production quality, what with there being a number of pointless digital effects. But it is fun. And it is craftily put together. The final reveal twist will probably irk many, it did me as there wasn’t really any indication for the viewer to pick up on that I noticed. Not the worst twist I’ve seen though. I don’t put much stock on an ending being the thing that makes of breaks a film. It’s the journey, not the destination. Now You See Me is at least a fun journey. Although if you want a better recent magic themed film with wafer thin characters The Prestige is the way to go.