"Now" not as magical as it wants to be
One of the things that’s mentioned often in Louis Leterrier’s heist movie Now You See Me, which focuses on a quartet of Robin Hood-like illusionists, is that the secret to a good magic trick is mastering the art of misdirection. Any trickster worth his salt would agree that the linchpin of most any trick is getting the audience to look left while the sleight of hand is occurring to the right. Careers, not just in the world of magic, have been built on this simple strategy and early on in the movie you can’t help but smile at how slickly this technique is executed.
To be sure, Now certainly practices what it preaches as the director keeps the film moving at such a rapid pace, has his camera whirling at such a constant rate and throws so much information at the audience at such mind-boggling speed that it becomes obvious that misdirection is the name of the game here, not simply where the magicians’ marks are concerned but with the audience as well. It’s a razzle dazzle piece of cinematic "magic" that’s supposed to send viewers out of the theater thinking they’ve been pleasantly amused and entertained. Problem is, once you stop and think about all of the twists and turns in the screenplay from Ed Solomon, Boaz Yakin and Edward Ricourt, you realize that the narrative pieces don’t quite fit together and that what you’ve seen is a bit more flimsy at second glance.
The quartet at the center of all of this, dubbed The Four Horsemen, consists of four hustlers from various walks of life. J. Daniel Atlas (Jesse Eisenberg) is on the cusp of stardom with his over-the-top card tricks; mentalist Merritt McKinney (Woody Harrelson), once on top, is now reduced to scamming innocents with schemes involving hypnosis; Henley Reeves (Isla Fisher) is the personification of misdirection with her sexy demeanor and death-defying acts; while Jack Wilder (David Franco) is a simple street hustler. They are brought together by a mysterious benefactor who turns them into a Las Vegas act, which specializes in elaborate illusions. The trick that gets them on the map is when they rob three million Euros from a Parisian bank while on stage thousands of miles away. This gets the attention of FBI Agent Dylan Rhodes (Mark Ruffalo) who’s partnered up with Interpol Officer Alma Dray (Melanie Laurent) to crack the case.
There are more than a few holes in this premise that we’re suppose to overlook but which nagged at me throughout. No explanation is given as to how these four go from nothing to Vegas headliners in a year’s time or who is bankrolling this enterprise. While insurance magnate Arthur Tressler (Michael Caine) is introduced as their sponsor after they make it big, nothing is made of how they got his attention in the first place. And while the bank robbing trick is revealed to be a somewhat plausible trick, there are far too many moments in the film that are either not explained or, when they are, simply don’t hold water. Far too many things would have to fall into place just right for it all to come together, and it winds up being too much to swallow.
Equally troubling is the movie’s big reveal – which observant viewers will be able to guess before the film’s first hour is over. One of the characters is not who they seem and once their true identity is revealed, you can’t help but think back to all they have done prior to the movie’s climax. Their actions become nonsensical in retrospect and require too big of a narrative leap to be believed.
Good heist films are ones that play by the rules they establish and once the method to their madness is revealed, you can’t help but smile at how clever the elements of the story are. Now plays by another set of rules. It relies on the audience’s short attention span so that it may be tricked rather by a cinematic con man’s feat of misdirection rather than impressed by an artist’s skill and intelligence. Funny how there’s such a fine line between being amazed and feeling taken advantage of.