May 31, 2013



NOW YOU SEE ME:  Watch It At Home – Don’t Look Too Closely

A summer action movie, like a magic act, is only as good as its final trick, and the one in the relatively low-budget NOW YOU SEE ME (which this season means something under $100M) is fairly entertaining–not impossible to foresee, if only by a process of elimination, but well played all the same.

The script for Now You See Me, by Ed Solomon, Boaz Yakin and Edward Ricourt (story by the latter two) does a lot of talking about the ways magicians distract the viewer’s eye from what’s really going on, and the movie itself does that by creating The Four Horseman, a super-group of magicians with specific skills who are gathered together in the opening sequences by a mysterious third party.  There’s acerbic traditional magician Daniel (Jesse Eisenberg), escape-artist and Daniel’s former assistant/girlfriend Henley (Isla Fisher), pickpocket Jack (Dave Franco) and mentalist Merritt (Woody Harrelson).  Once they’ve been combined, the next time we see them is in a splashy Las Vegas act, the financing for which has come from industrialist Arthur Tressler (Michael Caine).  The gang creates the illusion that a man in the audience is robbing a bank–in France, no less–while thousands of miles away, that bank really is robbed, and euros rain down on the crowd in Vegas.  Future events in New Orleans and New York up the ante on their Robin Hood-ish knack for stealing money and giving it to the fans–while hiding, of course, the real motive for what’s happening.  Meanwhile, as their crimes mount, the group is chased by weary FBI agent Rhodes (Mark Ruffalo), and his perky Interpol colleague Alma (Melanie Laurent, from Inglourious Basterds), and also by magic debunker (and ex-magician himself) Thaddeus Bradley (Morgan Freeman).  As you’d expect, more than one of these people has something to hide.

It doesn’t do to scrutinize the plot mechanics of Now You See Me too closely–when the Las Vegas/Paris heist is explained in detail, it’s so unlikely that you almost wish they’d kept it vague.  There are also enough signposts to the eventual ending that it’s not quite as ingeniously shocking as the writers clearly mean it to be.  What Louis Letterier’s direction does effectively, though, is handle the sleight-of-hand with charm and style.  Much of that is due to the excellent cast.  Eisenberg, Fisher, Harrelson and Franco are all likable scoundrels, genially sniping at one another between capers; Caine and Freeman, of course, are the definition of “old pros”; and it’s good to see Laurent getting her chance at a Hollywood paycheck.  Ruffalo is a particularly strong choice as the FBI man, because even though his role requires him to be the guy who’s always an exasperated step behind our anti-heroes, he comes across as such a smart actor that Rhodes never seems like the blundering idiot he sort of is.

The drawback of a movie like this, which is carefully guarding the truth about several characters, is that no one can be developed very deeply, because they’re ultimately more playing pieces than three-dimensional people.  That limits our emotional involvement in the story being told.  Still, Leterrier keeps enough going on that the piece glides by, at its best recalling one of Soderbergh’s Ocean’s comedy-thrillers.  Until now, Leterrier has been known for much more turgid spectacles like the Clash of the Titans remake and The Incredible Hulk (the one with Edward Norton), and it’s a pleasant surprise that while he can deliver a big FDR Drive car chase, he also has a gift for light comedy.  Also appreciated:  he keeps the CG trickery to a minimum. The photography by Larry Fong and Mitchell Amundsen, editing by Robert Leighton and Vincent Tabaillon, and score by Brian Tyler are smoothly first-rate.

Now You See Me is no more than a couple of hours of mild entertainment, but it takes itself much less seriously than most of the tentpoles clogging our multiplexes right now, and that’s a mercy.  It’s the movie equivalent of neatly pulling a quarter out of the audience’s collective ear.



About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."