What is magic? It is deception, meant to entertain. It is trickery, that would still make you want to believe in the unbelievable. It gives you a sense of awe, of being around an extraordinary power, and even to the most skeptic it would still provide that teeny-tiny bit of fun. What are movies? Quite something similar, aren’t they? Movies are magical acts too in a way. And so it most certainly is a grand act when you put one in the other. Magic and magicians in a movie. There are however not many that have managed to undertake this grand trick successfully. Christopher Nolan did it with much aplomb in The Prestige. And Edward Norton starrer The Illusionist is another which I recall that delighted with its magic tricks. So it has been refreshing for this year’s summer lineup to include another trick up its sleeve in Now You See Me.
Now You See Me begins with four street magicians (Jesse Eisenberg, Woody Harrelson, Isla Fisher, Dave Franco) showcasing their trickery individually until they are brought together by a mysterious benefactor to perform a set of shows. An year later, the group now known as The Four Horsemen are enthralling a huge crowd with their tricks which finally culminates in robbing a bank miles away from them. The magic trick is unimaginable and baffles all, including the FBI agent (Mark Ruffalo) who has been handed this case along with an Interpol agent (Mélanie Laurent). Only one understands the sleight of hand that goes behind the magic, a former magician himself (Morgan Freeman) who now revels in uncovering magic tricks. But as the movie’s tag line goes “The closer you look , the less you’ll see”, nothing is what it seems to be and the more you try to understand, the more baffled you are left. As Ruffalo struggles to understand the bigger picture, it becomes a race against time for him to stop The Four Horsemen from their next act, their next heist.
The story for Now You See Me has been written by Boaz Rakin, who is the director of the classic sports movie Remember The Titans and has writing credits for The Rookie and Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time amongst a few others, along with the less known Edward Ricourt. The screenplay credits too go to the duo along with Ed Solomon, who at his peak wrote 1997’s Men In Black. These gentlemen need to take a bow! While Now You See Me benefits from its stellar cast, its first hero is the story itself. Gripping, engaging, thrilling, there is no break in pace right till the end. It is one trick after another, and just when you feel that things are becoming clearer, they in fact get murkier. The biggest tricks that happen in the movie are the illusions that the audience are led to believe in, with deceptions that feel real, deceit that seems right. The story/screenplay is not air-tight, let’s be clear on that, it is not The Prestigeperfect and if you reflect on the movie after you step out, there will be quite a few unanswered questions. But it is befitting a summer entertainer, it does its best to connect the many dots, and since a long time I have not heard so many ‘oohs’ and ‘aahs’ from the crowd during a movie.
The director Louis Leterrier does get the rhythm of the movie right in most places. Leterrier knows how to entertain the audience, be it with a simpler story or a more elaborate one. His directorial work in the past includes Transporter and Transporter 2, Clash of the Titans and The Incredible Hulk. While none of them may feature in your ‘great movie’ lists, each one scores high in terms of sheer entertainment by keeping a fast moving pace throughout the duration of the film. Now You See Me falls in the same category and is helped by the presence of a better story. And interlaced with the action and magic, there are enough moments of humour, made more appealing by the fact that the characters become more lovable as the movie progresses.
While the movie begins with the four magicians and the formation of The Four Horsemen giving the feeling that it would have Jesse Eisenberg as the main protagonist, it is in fact a Mark Ruffalo movie. One can call it Mark Ruffalo versus The Four Horsemen. Each of the actors in The Four Horsemen become instantly likable after the opening scene itself, where each one of them is shown performing an individual trick. And then throughout the movie, they are generally seen together, as a group. Eisenberg’s quirky charm and Harrelson’s crude wit is what gets the ball rolling in the right direction early on. Isla Fisher is charming and affable, adding the feminine touch to the group and Dave Franco (younger brother of James Franco; you can make it out with the distinct smile!) completes things with his youthfulness and energy. Michael Caine has a slightly limited role but there is hardly anything he can do wrong in acting. Morgan Freeman is untouchable as usual, his oh-so-godlike voice adding further magic to this story, and he always seems to be the one in the movie who knows more than he tells. As the movie grows, so does the presence of Morgan Freeman, and that is always a good thing!
Mark Ruffalo is one of the most underrated performers in Hollywood, or at least was until he could showcase his talent to a bigger audience with The Avengers. His acting is effortless (not much unlike Freeman himself), there is a feeling of genuineness in his performances, it flows smoothly rather than being banged up. His helplessness in getting to the magicians is evident and it builds up well as the movie reaches its finale. And the French actress Mélanie Laurent (who starred in Inglourious Basterds) completes the equation with her role of the agent who is willing to be more open, see the sides that Ruffalo is unwilling to, and tries to make him understand things better.
Now You See Me is a through entertainer, but it lacks a crispness in the complete package that could have elevated its level. It does not disappoint, it does not slacken its pace, but it may not erupt into the finale for some that would have been expected along the way. But it sure is one of the better movies of the year, an year which has seen a slew of disappointments from known actors and directors, and so for being genuinely what it set out to be, this movie is definitely recommended.