Film #99: Now You See Me (2013)

Now-you-see-medirector: Louis Leterrier
language: English and a bit of French
length: 115 minutes
watched on: 30 October 2013

For some reason this film is known as “Grand Illusion” in Japan, which feels like a less evocative title to me, but perhaps they felt that the English title is too culturally specific, and relies on the audience filling in the second half of the idiom.

The film is basically similar to Ocean’s Eleven in tone and subject matter, at least at the start when it depicts a bank heist in Las Vegas. It’s about four big-stage magicians, who pull of a series of big stunts in order to make their way into some kind of super magician club. They’re chased by an FBI agent (Mark Ruffalo) and a guy who makes a living from debunking famous magicians (Morgan Freeman).

The mantra “the closer you look, the less you see” is repeated throughout the movie ad nauseam, and the Big Plot Twist at the end is so foreshadowed that I’m almost ashamed that I didn’t predict it… but I didn’t care. The film had no substance to it, because it was too flashy and only had about one magic trick that wasn’t pulled off with computer graphics. It was enjoyable enough that it was a fine way to spend two hours, but the plot just ran itself into the ground near the end, with motivations and characters flying all over the place.

The biggest thing that pissed me off about Now You See Me was the camera work – I literally don’t think the camera stopped moving once throughout the whole movie. If it wasn’t big sweeping shots of crowds that gave me motion sickness (and just made the thing blurry), it was shakycam close-ups when the characters were having conversations. I guess the motion thing is supposed to lend a sense of energy to the film, but I think they did it in such a way that it became distracting.

The characters were also all annoying assholes, too, particularly Jesse Eisenberg, who plays such an arrogant character (as he is quickly being typecast after The Social Network) that it’s impossible not to want to punch him in the face, but the others have their share of unreconcilable flaws. I didn’t really enjoy the magician characters in particular, but the FBI agent was a bit of a dick too. There’s precious little character development, and I couldn’t see any reason to care about any of them.

Morgan Freeman’s role in the movie is also annoying, because he just explains the tricks away in a rather droll manner. It becomes a kind of narration, but for me the potential joy in something like that is not just being shown how the magicians pulled off their bank heist, but seeing the other characters finding out piece by piece how they did it. Here, because they start with a big bank heist, they seem to work their way down from that, as the second show is them robbing their manager’s bank account, and the third is just them thanking their fans and disappearing. The bits in the middle are exciting, sure, but they gloss over solving the mystery of the heist very quickly and move on.

It’s easy to compare this to something like The Prestige, another movie about magic, and noting that the entire movie can be seen as something like a magic trick. This clearly attempts to go for that, but it doesn’t manage it. Watch The Prestige again, and you see an entirely different take on what happens, but if I watched this again, I’d just be as confused as to why any of it was happening.

That’s not to say the film is completely without merit. I enjoyed the occasional piece of humour (especially the recurring jokes relating to the hypnotist and his victims), and a lot of the random magic tricks that we see during the magic shows, but I think it would have been much better if I didn’t think they were all “performed” using CGI. But I can’t in good faith give it a recommendation.

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