Reel Matt

This blog started as my movie marathon — watching a movie a day for a whole year — and has continued as a place for me to write reviews about movies, TV, and various other items.

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Now You See Me

Film #365

THE PLOT

An FBI agent and an Interpol detective track a team of illusionists who pull off bank heists during their performances and reward their audiences with the money.

Year 1, Day 365

BEFORE: It’s been a year to the day from when I started this movie marathon. Three hundred and sixty-five films later, I decided to end everything in a movie theater. There are a few movies in theaters currently including the new Man of Steel and World War Z but I decided to pick something different. Today I’ll be watching Now You See Me, a heist film with some magic and illusions thrown in. If you’ll recall from earlier in the marathon, The Illusionist and The Prestige were both films I enjoyed, partially because I like to think of myself as an amateur magician.

So, for one last time this year, let the lights dim and the movie begin.

AFTER: “The more you look, the less you’ll see.” What I find so fascinating with magic is that no matter how hard you look or how hard you try to figure out how a trick is done, there is always some part of you that wants to be tricked. You want to be left puzzled so that afterwards you spend hours going over the trick again and again, which for me is the real entertainment. Now You See Me is like one big magic trick, especially in the way things are set up and the information we’re made privy to. The result is a whole bunch of twists - some predictable, some completely unexpected - that leave you guessing and engaged throughout the film.

As the film so aptly describes, one of the key tenets of magic is misdirection. The greatest strength of Now You See Me is its ability to misdirect us all while telling us to be aware of what the film is doing. Constantly the film reminds us, often through variations of Daniel Atlas’ (Jesse Eisenberg) quote at the beginning, to step back and try to look at things through a wide lens. What is the big picture? How does everything fit together? At times, we are even given hints and clues as to where the film is headed. Thaddeus Bradley (Morgan Freeman) gives us the most showing us the details of how the tricks are done and what the four horsemen - composed of Daniel Atlas, Merritt McKinney (Woody Harrelson), Henley Reeves (Isla Fisher), and Jack Wilder (Dave Franco) - are planning to do. But his hints are nothing more than that. They’re meant to lead us to the answers before they happen, and in retrospect they do if you know the entire context, but they lead us to conclusions that are so close to the truth, yet not quite. And that is what’s so amazing about Now You See Me. Like a great magic trick, everything you need to know is laid out in front of you. If you were the magician, you’d be able to see how everything was done and where it leads to. But more often than not, you’ll miss a tiny detail - a palmed card, a sentence you deem unimportant, or watching the wrong person - and that is when the magic happens.

Where the film isn’t so magical is in some of the in-between sections; the small-talk the magician makes while he’s setting up for his next trick. To make the false leads believable, the characters and their actions have to have some weight to them. If they weren’t paid much attention and were thrown away quickly, we would catch on pretty quick and turn our focus back to where we should. One of the reasons the misdirection works in Now You See Me is because these minor stories and characters are given the attention that is required. The problem is the ideas they’re founded on are flaky. For example, how/why the four horsemen do what they do? Early on in the film, these four single acts are brought together by mysterious tarot cards and a little while later it’s revealed that the reason they are working together is to join a secret organization called “The Eye”. An example like this is satisfying enough to command our attention and distract us from more important things but the secondary effect is it makes us want to know more about “The Eye”. Many, but not all, of these sub-stories - like the existence of “The Eye” - are just poorly thought out. They leave much to be desired, and while during the film it’s not that big of a deal (because your attention is constantly moving to different things), by the end, you’re left wondering, “Was it really necessary to including something like that?”

Now You See Me definitely had me mesmerized. It’s a heist film, a drama, and a comedy, but the thing that brings them all together is magic. The film is a performance, start to finish, and it knows how to work its audience into believing and watching what it wants you to. So when you get to the end of the film and hear one of the characters say, “I did not see that coming,” you are right there along side them trying to piece everything together. I would recommend this to anyone looking for a show - fans of the Ocean’s films especially check this out. I’m glad I chose this as the last film for the movie marathon’s first year and while you see me now…

…now you don’t.

RATING: 4 out of 5