The idea of magicians as master criminals is a wonderful conceit that powers the narrative of Louis Leterrier’s Now You See Me. Combing a cast of superb, if unconventional characters actors it plays out a bit like a magic version of Ocean’s 11.
Four magicians: J. Daniel Atlas (Jesse Eisenberg), Merritt McKinney (Woody Harrelson), Henley Reeves (Isla Fisher) and Jack Wilder (Dave Franco) are all invited by an unknown mastermind to perform a series of high-profile illusions under the guise of The Four Horsemen. Their first act, robbing a bank in Paris at the exact time that they are performing their show in Arthur Tressler (Michael Caine) Las Vegas casino draws the attention of FBI agent Dylan Rhodes (Mark Ruffalo) who has to call upon professional magic debunker Thaddeus Bradley (Morgan Freeman) to explain how they managed it. This leads to a cat-and-mouse race between the two groups as the authorities do their best to stop the Horseman before they can perform their finale.
The greatest magician film of recent years is Christopher Nolan’s The Prestige, which understood that the power of magic is figuring out how you have been bested by the illusionist. Now You See Me takes all the razzle dazzle of showmanship, but skimps a bit on the explanation.
It starts easily enough with Morgan Freeman’s excellent Thaddeus explaining with great joy how simple the tricks are. This adds to the sizzling chemistry of the eclectic Horsemen team. They’re so entertaining to be around that it is a shame that so little time is spent in their exciting company. Plenty of time is given to Ruffalo’s grumpy FBI agent Rhodes, and his dumbfounded look each and every time he is bested by ˜the smartest guys in the room’ provides endless entertainment. The film even has the confidence to show a protracted fight scene in which card-throwing and fireballs are not only understandable, but welcome.
By the end though any desire to explain some of the more complex illusions is sadly forgotten and you can’t help but feel that the film is trying to imply that magic is real. This breaks the films own rules and leaves a slightly bitter taste in one’s mouth. At least Christopher Nolan left only one answer unsaid, not a whole third act.
There is still enough pure entertainment in Now You See Me to recommend it, but a thoroughly disappointing finale really ruins a lot of the hard work done at the start. It is rare in these days of endless sequels and a lack of originality to actually demand a sequel, but a little more time in the company of such an entertaining cast wouldn’t be unwelcome.