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Now You See Me (2013)


J.A.A. Purves
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(A&F links to Unleashed (2005), Transporter 2 (2005), The Incredible Hulk (2008), and Clash of the Titans (2010).)

I have yet to find anything of Leterrier's to be excited about. I may regret starting this thread after seeing the trailer. But I can't help but be impressed by the cast, where it looks like a gang of bank robbers/illusionists (Jesse Eisenberg, Isla Fisher, Woody Harrelson, Dave Franco) are being backed by two older magicians (Morgan Freeman and Michael Caine) and being hunted down by the FBI and Interpol (Mark Ruffalo and Melanie Laurent).

So they've got the talented cast. Josh Appelbaum (who helped write Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol, the American TV show Life on Mars) is credited for writing the script.

 

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"Sympathy must precede belligerence. First I must understand the other, as it were, from the inside; then I can critique it from the outside. So many people skip right to the latter." -- Steven D. Greydanus
Now blogging at Patheos.com. I can also still be found at Facebook, Twitter and Flickr. See also my film journal.

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  • 4 weeks later...

"Sympathy must precede belligerence. First I must understand the other, as it were, from the inside; then I can critique it from the outside. So many people skip right to the latter." -- Steven D. Greydanus
Now blogging at Patheos.com. I can also still be found at Facebook, Twitter and Flickr. See also my film journal.

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  • 4 weeks later...

Has anyone seen this? The cast and premise looks intriguing, but Leterrier is hardly a competent director, and the reviews on Rotten Tomatoes are anything but promising.

"Anyway, in general I love tragic artists, especially classical ones."

"Even the forms for expressing truth can be multiform, and this is indeed necessary for the transmission of the Gospel in its timeless meaning."

- Pope Francis, August 2013 interview with Antonio Spadaro

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Caught it tonight. It's one of those movies that has no real suspense because you know everything has been planned or anticipated in advance by some supergenius -- even though there are plenty of variables that really *should* have been able to de-rail everything. I was actually reminded of SDG's complaint about the Matrix sequels, and what they supposedly reveal about what was going on behind-the-scenes in the original film.

"Sympathy must precede belligerence. First I must understand the other, as it were, from the inside; then I can critique it from the outside. So many people skip right to the latter." -- Steven D. Greydanus
Now blogging at Patheos.com. I can also still be found at Facebook, Twitter and Flickr. See also my film journal.

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I decided to give it a try, and then decided to try my hand at writing a review.

The biggest problem with Now You See Me is that it never escapes from inevitable comparisons to The Prestige. Both films concern rival magicians with at least one trying to uncover the others' secrets, while the others attempt a dazzling, mind-blowing disappearing trick. It does not help that Now You See Me also stars Michael Caine in role fairly similar to the mentor he played in The Prestige. Nor does Morgan Freeman's presence help the comparison, since he starred in three Christopher Nolan films along with Michael Caine, serving as another reminder of Nolan's work. Finally the line "you have to take a leap of faith," which featured so prominently in Inception, is nearly as prominent here.

None of that is to say Now You See Me is a bad film. For the most part, it remains fairly entertaining and cohesive, never becoming risible, but it stays mediocre, and everything in it has been done before and done much better, especially in The Prestige and Ocean's 11.

The opening fifteen minutes serve as a prologue to introduce the magicians and bring them together, very similar to the prologue in Ocean's 11 as Ocean recruits his assistants. Daniel Atlas (Jesse Eisenberg) is a popular street magician known for his sleight of hand; Merritt McKinley (Woody Harrelson) a mentalist, hypnotist, and con artist; Jack Wilder (Dave Franco) an illusionist, and Isla Fisher an escape artist. All four are masters at their craft, which creates a problem. They are so talented that their endeavors are never in jeopardy and there is no doubt that they will succeed at all the high-risk magic tricks they attempt. Due to their level of skill, they all receive mysterious, anonymous invitation to collaborate on a unique magic show with an unknown purpose.

The four magicians call themselves the four horsemen. Together they put on one of the most impressive magic shows in Las Vegas, which culminates with them robbing a bank in Paris and transporting the money to Las Vegas, which they pass out to the audience members, all via magic. Since the Parisian bank that they claimed to rob was, in fact robbed, the FBI, led by Dylan Rhodes (Mark Ruffalo), begins investigating the four horsemen. Rhodes turns to embittered ex-magician Thaddeus Bradley (Morgan Freeman) for assistance in exposing the thieves.

Freeman's presence in the movie is another major problem. He plays the role decently, but his character is so knowledgeable that he removes nearly all of the suspense. Almost as soon as a trick occurs, he reveals the secret to Rhodes and to the audience, preventing any overarching mystery or intrigue regarding how the four horsemen pulled off their crime. Even the method of execution for their final, grandest crime is clear as soon as it occurs. The only mystery is the identity of the fifth horseman, who hired the magicians and is clearly their outside aid.

There are four possible outcomes for the identity of the fifth horseman. Option A is quickly dismissed as the other horsemen turn against him. Options B and C both seem clichéd and too obvious, and option D seems preposterous and farfetched. Due to recollections of earlier scenes, the option that the film ends up going with works better than one would think, and most viewers probably would not see the twist coming. However, there are several scenes when the fifth horseman plays along in character for the benefit of no one other than the camera and the audience. Even though no other character is around the fifth horseman, he/she still acts the part that everyone else thinks is his/hers. For instance, this character could easily have ignored pieces of advice that no one else knew about instead of going out of his/her way to give them credence. I was not convinced the screenwriters knew who the fifth horseman would be until they got to the climax of the script, and went "Shoot! We have to pick a character."

The rationale for the fifth horseman's actions is a run-of-the-mill revenge story, which the film glamorizes because the object of the revenge deserved it, and because the magic show was so spectacular that there is no reason to punish the magicians, who had good intentions anyways. While the film's light hearted sense of fun prevents it from ever taking itself too seriously, it undermines the serious moral shortcomings of all the characters.

That lighthearted sense of fun also prevents any sense of empathy for the characters or any character development. Several potentially tragic scenes have no emotional pull, because it is obvious everything is going to work out for the best of the magicians.

Like many magic tricks, Now You See Me seems engaging and fairly impressive while it is being executed. The performances are solid, and the mystery is intriguing enough to hold one's interest. Once the mystery is revealed; however, there is very little substance to it and ultimately even less intrigue.

"Anyway, in general I love tragic artists, especially classical ones."

"Even the forms for expressing truth can be multiform, and this is indeed necessary for the transmission of the Gospel in its timeless meaning."

- Pope Francis, August 2013 interview with Antonio Spadaro

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I thought it was good fun. The very very end scene didn't quite work for me, I would have liked if she had have shown herself smarter in that she had figured out more of what was going on.

I'm just waiting for the charts working through the plot, with its potential inconsistencies and plot holes to go online.

Evan C said:

:For instance, this character could easily have ignored pieces of advice that no one else knew about instead of going out of his/her way to give them credence.

My wife and I had discussed this. We came to the conclusion that if he hadn't have played along with this the other characters could have figured out that there was something fishy going on if they later discussed the situaltion(s). So it was in his best interest to play along and probably not a plot hole.

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I thought it was good fun. The very very end scene didn't quite work for me, I would have liked if she had have shown herself smarter in that she had figured out more of what was going on.

I'm just waiting for the charts working through the plot, with its potential inconsistencies and plot holes to go online.

It was quite a bit of fun while it lasted, but the big reveal, which enhances the mystery in The Prestide and The Illusionist only detracted from Now You See Me.

Evan C said:

:For instance, this character could easily have ignored pieces of advice that no one else knew about instead of going out of his/her way to give them credence.

My wife and I had discussed this. We came to the conclusion that if he hadn't have played along with this the other characters could have figured out that there was something fishy going on if they later discussed the situaltion(s). So it was in his best interest to play along and probably not a plot hole.

I was referring to the scene when

Freeman calls Ruffalo and asks him about the role of a magician's assistant, and then says it suspicious that Melanie Laurent appeared out of the blue to help on the case. I agree Ruffalo may have needed to question her to keep up appearances, but the hesitation and long, sideways glance before he does, which no other character can see, was only to fool the audience.

"Anyway, in general I love tragic artists, especially classical ones."

"Even the forms for expressing truth can be multiform, and this is indeed necessary for the transmission of the Gospel in its timeless meaning."

- Pope Francis, August 2013 interview with Antonio Spadaro

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Maybe. But wasn't he amongst a group of people. The sideways glance still could have been to keep up appearances. But. No matter, that was also the scene that I had wondered about, so you could have a point.

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He was among a group after he hung up and walked over to her, but I'm 99% sure that the other agents all left him alone for the call, which is why I found his facial expressions and feigned disappointment unbelievable.

"Anyway, in general I love tragic artists, especially classical ones."

"Even the forms for expressing truth can be multiform, and this is indeed necessary for the transmission of the Gospel in its timeless meaning."

- Pope Francis, August 2013 interview with Antonio Spadaro

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He was among a group after he hung up and walked over to her, but I'm 99% sure that the other agents all left him alone for the call, which is why I found his facial expressions and feigned disappointment unbelievable.

Could very well be.

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FWIW, as of this weekend, Now You See Me has grossed $104.7 million in North America and is thus one of Jesse Eisenberg's top-grossing movies ever, behind only the animated Rio (2011, $143.6 million) and The Village (2004, $114.2 million), in which I can only assume he had a fairly small role, as I don't even *remember* seeing him in that one back then.

It is also Morgan Freeman's top-grossing non-Batman movie since Wanted (2008, $134.5 million) -- or, if you prefer, his top-grossing non-comic-book movie since Bruce Almighty (2003, $242.8 million).

It is also Michael Caine's top-grossing non-Chris-Nolan live-action movie since Austin Powers in Goldmember (2002, $73.1 million) -- or, if you prefer, his top-grossing non-Nolan non-sequel since Miss Congeniality (2000, $106.8 million), and, when it passes *that* film in the next week or two, it will apparently be Caine's top-grossing non-Nolan non-sequel *ever*.

"Sympathy must precede belligerence. First I must understand the other, as it were, from the inside; then I can critique it from the outside. So many people skip right to the latter." -- Steven D. Greydanus
Now blogging at Patheos.com. I can also still be found at Facebook, Twitter and Flickr. See also my film journal.

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Did I neglect to post my 60-second review? Guess so. (Posted below.)

Caught it tonight. It's one of those movies that has no real suspense because you know everything has been planned or anticipated in advance by some supergenius -- even though there are plenty of variables that really *should* have been able to de-rail everything.

Agreed, though despite the lack of suspense there's still enough razzle-dazzle to be fitfully entertaining, until the slightly disappointing finale.

For what it's worth, I pegged Supergenius Mastermind about halfway through, and had the gist of his motivation maybe a half hour before the end.

What bugged me about the ending, besides the weird and unnecessary Dan Brownish "The Eye" stuff, was that there's no single, dramatic moment of revelation where someone -- in this case, the logical person would be the victim, i.e., Morgan Freeman's character -- realizes in a flash not only what's been done to him and by whom, but why. A satisfying ending requires that the trick be fully explained to him, not just to Supergenius Mastermind's fellow conspirators, who have no emotional stake. Leaving the victim going "Why? Why?" leaves the movie with the other shoe still in the air, as it were; the subsequent explanation shows us where the shoe is, but without the satisfying thump of it actually falling.

Also, FWIW, the enormity of what the victim did to deserve his downfall isn't brought home to the audience in a way to make his downfall emotionally satisfying -- particularly with that actor the heavy in the role. That actor is so naturally sympathetic, both in general and in this role (e.g., his confrontation with Michael Caine), that sticking it to him in the end isn't going to offer audiences a sense of emotional closure without some preparation.

Not to say that a revenge story necessarily ought to invest us emotionally in the victim's downfall; in principle, a more moral revenge story might not want us to identify emotionally with the vengeance-taker's vengeance. But it would have to do something else instead to make a satisfying story of it, and whatever the alternatives are, Now You See Me doesn't do any of them.

I was actually reminded of SDG's complaint about the Matrix sequels, and what they supposedly reveal about what was going on behind-the-scenes in the original film.

Interesting. Not sure I see that myself. I mean, my problem with the Matrix sequels is that the original film, despite its postmodern milieu, is shot through with pledges, however confused, of real meaning and a moral universe that is then decisively undermined by the revelations of the sequels. With this film, you pretty much know going in that the movie's events are over-determined by Unknown Mastermind.

“I write because I don’t know what I think until I read what I say.” — Flannery O'Connor

Writing at the new Decent Films | Follow me on Twitter and Facebook

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SDG said:

:A satisfying ending requires that the trick be fully explained to him, not just to Supergenius Mastermind's fellow conspirators, who have no emotional stake. Leaving the victim going "Why? Why?" leaves the movie with the other shoe still in the air, as it were; the subsequent explanation shows us where the shoe is, but without the satisfying thump of it actually falling.

Also, FWIW, the enormity of what the victim did to deserve his downfall isn't brought home to the audience in a way to make his downfall emotionally satisfying -- particularly with that actor the heavy in the role. That actor is so naturally sympathetic, both in general and in this role (e.g., his confrontation with Michael Caine), that sticking it to him in the end isn't going to offer audiences a sense of emotional closure without some preparation.

I think the idea was that it would be worse for him to be in prison, not knowing (not necessarily that this was good). But as you've said, he didn't come across as a character that deserved all that.

I also found it kind of silly that Morgan Freemans character was jailed after they found his vehicle stuffed full of money. After all, that obviously wasn't a plant. smile.png

Edited by Attica
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  • 5 months later...

Was there ever any mention of Lionel Shrike having a son? If there is and I missed it, I would be a little more forgiving toward the movie, although it's still dumb and feels almost arbitrary by the end.

Edited by Tyler

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