Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Movie Review - Now You See Me

I have had a love and passion for magic since I was a little kid. I guess that's not saying a whole lot since you'd probably have to search for a while before you found a kid who didn't enjoy magic. That's part of being a child after all..reveling in the magic all around us. But I can say that my passion expanded to wanting to be a magician. On those "what do you want to be when you grow up" forms and assignments in grade school, I had a couple of standard answers: Astronaut, Magician, Teacher. I checked out magic books from the library, bought a number of books and magic kits and put on magic shows for family and friends. On our occasional family trips to Disneyland, we usually made a pit stop in Las Vegas to get a rest after driving for hours. I loved these stops because Vegas had some of the most awesome magic shops and I picked up some really cool tricks.

With all of that in mind, it is no wonder that I was hooked upon viewing the first trailer for Now You See Me. I mean, it's a movie about magicians who somehow transport a man halfway across the globe to rob a bank in France. The premise continues with the magicians working to outsmart the FBI, Interpol and a naysayer Morgan Freeman who has made it his life's work to expose how elaborate "magic tricks" are really done and show that magicians are just con artists. As you would hope in a show like this, the trailer works hard to NOT give away too much while still showing you plenty of scenes from throughout the movie. I suppose a very discerning and prying fan could work to piece together scenes from the trailer to find some spoilers, but I preferred to be surprised.

The movie opens with a brief monologue that was also part of the trailer. You are told to look closely, ever so closely…because the closer you're looking, the less you'll actually see. We then get a scene with each of the four principal magicians each working their own schtick. We have the street artist doing a pretty cool card trick with an over-the-top reveal. The cinematography is set up to make sure the audience is in on the trick and can be amazed as well when he reveals the card that each (most) of the audience members would have chosen. We are introduced to the "Mesmerist" Woody Harrelson who apparently puts on two-bit hypnotist shows. He seems to have some legitimate hypnosis talent which he uses to blackmail and con people. We meet the street smart hustler who has some nice slight of hand work but who is definitely skirting the edge of legality with his tricks. And we meet the female of the group as she performs a death defying escape act to a rowdy packed house. Each of these four individuals receive a mysterious invitation to an obscure apartment in New York. They had hoped the invitation was exclusive but accept the fact that all four of them are invited. They work together to enter the apparently empty apartment and then discover an even more mysterious and elaborate message laid out for them.

At this point the movie fast forwards to one year later and we're taken to the big scene from the trailer. These four magicians are now "The Four Horsemen" and are performing on a huge stage in Las Vegas. They conduct a number of pretty fun tricks through the night but end with the trick announced in the preview…they are going to rob a bank. A person is randomly chosen from the audience. He happens to be an international from France. They put him into the magical "teleporter" and watch his progress via a head mounted as he vanishes from the Vegas stage and appears inside a locked bank vault in front of a stack of Euros. With some more showmanship, the money is magically whisked up into the ventilation system of the vault and comes spewing out over the stage in Las Vegas. As the magicians take their bows, we transition to a shot in Paris where bank employees open the vault to find it empty except for a playing card and a ticket to the magic show in Vegas.

A very impressive trick. And it leads to a fun chase filled with equally exciting tricks both on and off stage. The next morning, the crew is arrested and interrogated by the FBI and Interpol. The authorities are in a hard situation because they have no tangible proof or explanation and can't really arrest people who were knowingly half a world away when the robbery took place. But they know that they are somehow complicit and as such the FBI pursues the horsemen in their tour across the US. The lead investigator for the FBI was played by Mark Ruffalo. I thought he did a fabulous job but I kept waiting for him to "green up" and say "Hulk Smash" or something. I guess I just haven't seen him in enough movies beyond The Avengers. *grin* He did a great job playing the logical and down-to-earth investigator who just wants somebody to tell him how the trick actually works. He is constantly getting frustrated and confused by all the sleight of hand and the insinuations that maybe there is some magic in the world and some things that just cannot or should not be explained.

I honestly haven't seen much work by the horsemen besides Woody Harrelson. They all (Jesse Eisenberg, Isla Fisher and Dave Franco) are fairly new up and coming actors. I really liked the way they worked together. Each character was fun and unique and they really played well off each other. Michael Caine and Morgan Freeman were the big movie veterans in the show and they each did a great job as well, which isn't any surprise. Caine played the investor behind the horsemen (though as the film goes on, it's unclear just how much he really knows about them) and Freeman plays the disgruntled ex-magician who now makes a living producing exposé style films exposing how magicians do some of their popular tricks.

The settings aren't terribly exotic per se but the on-stage presentations and the magical special effects are pretty cool. While I'm sure that many of the tricks can legitimately be done on a high quality stage, I'm also sure that some of them relied on movie magic to be done (such as the "bubble" sequence). Still, the movie did a great job on the showmanship front and really got me to suspend my disbelief and just let the magic of the scenes wash over me. I'd love to show it to my kids, but it does deserve the PG-13 rating due to swearing, a sexually suggestive scene, an explosive car chase and a number of street-brawling style fighting scenes. They're not pushing for an R rating, but it's definitely a bit over my younguns…I'll give 'em a few years.

The writing, acting, directing and pacing of the film were fabulous. I naturally tried to figure out the "trick" and solve the mystery of what was going on and why. I was able to make some of the natural leaps towards the endgame but there were still some great surprises and revelations throughout the film that really gave a great payoff. They did a good job of providing twists that didn't feel contrived or cheap. The only thing that did feel cheap to me was a line made by Woody Harrelson near the end of the movie where he says "I did not see that coming." I felt that line was in poor taste…as if he was "mesmerizing" the audience into acknowledging the twist ending and that they had been surprised. I felt like the surprise stood on its own merits and didn't need the character to confirm it to us. Rather than that line from Woody, I would have preferred one more scene with the horsemen giving more insight into what they're about to find. Still, that's a minor quibble amid some otherwise wonderful storytelling.

I loved this show. It truly played out like an elaborate magic show. While there was certainly some downtime in between "tricks", the narration kept me hooked and eager to see what happened next. The story is smart and elegant. The dialog is fun and witty and the characters do a great job playing off one another. My only worry is that the movie might not be quite as fun and exciting now that I've had the "reveal." I do want to see it at least one more time to see what sort of clues and foreshadowing are present earlier in the film. I think that even knowing the ending, I'll have fun throughout the film.

Go see Now You See Me and put some magic back into your life. For me, it's the best movie of 2013 so far. :)

4.5 out of 5 stars

1 comment:

Brian Miller said...

oh moving this to the top of my list....sounds like a great story...and a great cast...