Director: Louis Leterrier
Cast: Jesse Eisenberg, Woody Harrelson, Dave Franco, Isla Fisher, Mark Ruffalo, Morgan Freeman, Michael Cane, Melanie Laurent
Running time: 115 minutes
A group of illusionists known as the Four Horsemen, pulling off a series of increasingly impressive and elaborate bank robberies live on stage, are always one step ahead of the FBI and Interpol agents pursuing them.
I caught Now You See Me at a secret preview screening held by Cineworld cinemas (it’s official UK release in July 3rd), and it was a really fun experience. We had absolutely no idea what film we were about to see, save for a few esoteric clues dotted around on Twitter, and the collective anticipation in the screen was palpable. The moment of the reveal was met with both a priceless, synchronized “Ooohh” from the audience, and a sigh of relief from me. To be honest, I was just happy it wasn’t The Smurfs 2.
Think Ocean’s Prestige. Coming off the back of Clash Of The Titans (and a generally wobbly career), director Louis Leterrier has set out with a purpose on Now You See Me. That purpose was to prove to people he’s capable of crafting a movie that actually challenges his audience, rather than sends them out of the cinema wishing they could invent a time machine, travel back to before they bought the ticket and save two hours of their lives. I think he’s done just that, despite the mixed reception from American critics, and here’s why.
It’s a fantastic ensemble, from the magnetic Michael Caine and Morgan Freeman in smaller but pivotal roles right through to the main man Mark Ruffalo, who shines throughout and whose film it really is. There are surprisingly large portions of the running time where the Horsemen aren’t actually on-screen, but you don’t really notice it at the time because Ruffalo – and to be fair, Laurent, who spends a lot of her time with him (but mostly Ruffalo) – is so much fun. Woody Harrelson, playing the “mentalist” in the group, in that he can hypnotize people at will, provides almost all of the comedy and is just fantastic. Woody Harrelson in general is just brilliant. I’d also like to see more of Dave Franco, who’s beginning to step away from his big bro’s shadow with high-profile gigs, but I almost felt a little sorry for him in this because it seems every time he tries to say something one of the others cuts him off and says it first.
The strongest sequences of the film are the live shows the Four Horsemen perform. Much like an early scene in which Eisenberg’s illusionist Daniel Atlas performs a card trick directly at the camera, placing us in the position to be involved in the trick rather than just onlookers, during the shows they place the audience in the position of the audience in the film, making us feel like we’re at the show watching them. We know it’s all illusion, and blimey Charlie, we know it’s just a film, but it’s still so much fun watching magic being performed.
It moves along at a lightening pace – perhaps because if it slowed down too much you might start seeing holes – with the first act desperately trying to set up the plot as quickly as effortlessly as possible. It’s perhaps a misstep in the sense that it really does feel rushed and if you’re not completely alert in the first ten minutes you’ve missed a whole lot of exposition, but in the end it saves on running time in a film that’s almost two hours and feels it. Also, to be fair, it’s that pace that gives it the adrenaline and energy which makes it such a thrill.
It doesn’t always work. The denouement – and particularly the events directly prior to it – runs the risk of losing the audience through uncertainty. It seems to be walking a tightrope; fall off one side and everything slots together nicely for a thrilling climax; fall off the other and everything just falls to pieces. In the end I felt it fell off the right side, just, and things came together for a satisfying albeit scattered conclusion. With the rest of the film being so confident in its ideas and vivacious with its illusions, the climax exposes the weaknesses of the script and ultimately of its ambitious but rocky director.
It lacks the sheer ingenuity of The Prestige, which it draws plenty of inspiration from, but this is still an intelligent, inventive, and above all fun ensemble thriller that exudes confidence and often dazzles. A misstep here and there isn’t enough to drag it down; I had a great time.