Fantastically Popular and Borderline Criminal: Now You See Me

Last week we saw a “sneak” preview of Now You See Me, which opens today. I’ve held back on my review until it opened, but now it’s open so here it is: It has a great cast (Mark Ruffalo, Morgan Freeman, Michael Caine, Woody Harrelson, Jesse Eisenberg, Isla Fisher and James Franco’s brother Dave), gorgeous production values, and one immensely clever, often funny scene after another. If I have a complaint it’s that it never quite coheres into the clockwork thriller that I, and I think it, really wanted it to be, but it comes close. There are a few things that are either never explained (though, as one of the characters points out, they don’t necessarily need to be) or don’t make complete sense, but I’ll watch it again (and enjoy it) when it’s available on DVD or streaming to check the details I’m sure I missed the first time and maybe discover that they make sense after all. There was a “live” streaming talk afterward by the director, Louis Leterrier, co-producer Alex Kurtzman (better known for his TV and movie writing work for J.J. Abrams and Michael Bay), and stars Eisenberg and Fisher, where Leterrier says the film is peppered with clues that you won’t notice until you watch it again and I’m sure he’s right, because I caught at least a few of them the first time. By the way, if we’d managed to get tickets for the screening at the ArcLight Cinema in Hollywood, we could have really seen this talk live, but they were sold out by the time I heard that there was a screening at all.

Now You See Me Poster

Now You See Me Poster

There are really two major plots to the film, though as Amy noted afterward they’re so closely intertwined that they essentially form a single plot. One is about a group of street magicians who are drawn together toward a common goal that is broadly hinted at from the beginning and who put together a fantastically popular and borderline criminal magic show in Vegas, financed by banker Michael Caine, who is surprisingly trusting about the people he loans money to. The other is about an unknown villain who is using the magicians to achieve a second goal, hinted at more subtly but I partly guessed it without guessing all the related twists and details. Morgan Freeman is a magic “debunker” who makes his living by making DVDs explaining how magicians’ tricks really work, which of course makes him hated by other magicians. The real puzzle the audience has to figure out is how these two plots go together and who’s masterminding the whole mechanism and why, but what really makes the movie work is the cast. Woody Harrelson is particularly fun and Jesse Eisenberg’s “smartest guy in the room” routine is really growing on me. I think Michael Caine and Morgan Freeman are the two coolest old men on earth. And I didn’t realize that Isla Fisher (who I may never have seen before) had a lovely British accent until I saw the streaming interview afterward.

One thing that both Amy and I really liked was that the film explains how all of the major magic tricks worked and they all make sense, though I’m not sure it’s as easy to do hypnotism as Harrelson’s character makes it look. I guessed how one of the tricks worked instantly, probably because I owned the trick when I was a kid, but also because I don’t think it’s as realistic on screen as it is on stage. I didn’t immediately spot how it was merely a set-up for another, bigger trick, though.

And because it’s not in 3D or IMAX, you can see it at prices that don’t seem ridiculous anymore, though they would have two or three years ago. I think our “sneak” tickets cost $12.50 each. I recommend it.

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