Louis Leterrier is a French director who is responsible for Jason Statham’s action career, because he directed The Transporter. Guy Ritchie is responsible for Statham’s acting career (in case you haven’t seen Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels, rent that now) but Leterrier handed us one of the quickest, simplest, and most fun action movies of the last 15 years. Remember that oil fight?
Leterrier followed that with Unleased, a fantastic small movie with Jet Li and Morgan Freeman, then Transporter 2, The Incredible Hulk (the good one – with Ed Norton), and the Clash of the Titans reboot (which was terrible). He’s great with motion, movement, and action. Knowing that he’s involved with Now You See Me should give you an idea of the pacing of this movie. I’m not sure anyone stands still in it.
I’ve read that it’s difficult to do movies about magic – because you can’t really show any magic on screen. People assume it’s all camera trickery. Check the new Ricky Jay documentary (Deceptive Practice) if you want to see some real magic. But again, this is where the marketing squad comes in, this movie, Now You See Me – was marketed as a movie about magicians pulling a heist, but is really more of a movie about a cop chasing magicians who have pulled a heist.
The movie opens on each of four active magician-types, J. Daniel Atlas, Merritt McKinney, Jack Wilder and Henley Reeves performing in their own respective cities, being watched by a mysterious person in a hood – the hooded character gives each of them a tarot card, bringing them together and handing them the plans for an extensive stage show. We cut to a year later, and they are performing the show in Vegas. They proceed to rob a Paris bank during their stage show, crediting their backer, Arthur Tressler. Dylan Rhodes is the FBI agent and Alma Dray is the French agent assigned to figure out how they did it and bring them to justice. Meanwhile magician-buster Thaddeus Bradley is also chasing them to try to prove they are fakes. “The Four Horsemen” as they come to call themselves, continue with a second major stage show in New Orleans, where they cement their reputation as criminals and their status as wanted fugitives. They then work towards their final performance in New York City, while being pursued from almost all sides.
The movie is slick and sleek, almost constant movement and action. But, opposed to what the trailers would have you believe, (“Hey remember Woody and Jesse from Zombieland? Here they are in another movie! Check it out!”) it’s not really about magicians robbing banks, it’s more about the agents chasing them, and trying to bring them down.
· Jesse Eisenberg plays J. Daniel Atlas, a street close-up magician who is performing in Chicago in the beginning of the movie. Eisenberg is the same as Eisenberg is in every movie he’s in, which means within the first few minutes he’s on screen – I wanted to punch him. I find him really obnoxious, but that may just be me. He’s crazy pompous in this, but it really works for the character. I'm not sure about his hair choice here either, but whatever.
· Woody Harrelson is re-teamed with Eisenberg as McKinney, a mentalist working the southern circuit. When the movie opens, he’s hypnotizing people, learning secrets, and basically blackmailing folks for money. Woody plays well off Eisenberg, and is great in this movie.
· Isla Fisher plays Henley Reeves, an L.A. based thrill-escape artist/magician. She convincingly plays American in this, and again – is fine in this movie, apparently her character and Eisenberg’s character have a back history (she used to be his assistant – is he old enough to previously had an assistant?). They have some fun back and forth, but I’m not sure I bought that.
· Dave Franco (the better of the two Francos, in my opinion) plays Jack Wilder, a slight-of-hand con artist working in New York. When he encounters Eisenberg’s character, he mentions that he’s a huge fan and has seen all his work. Again – is Eisenberg old enough to have fans? Franco also gets a fantastic action sequence with Ruffalo that is one of the best fight scenes I have seen lately.
· Morgan Freeman plays Thaddeus Bradley, a former magician, who now releases videos of him debunking other magicians, explaining how they do what they do. He’s also very arrogant and pompous (there’s no shortage of arrogance in this movie, everyone thinks very highly of themselves).
· French Actress Melanie Laurent plays Alma Dray – the French agent assigned to the case of the missing money who partners with Rhodes to help bring down this crew.
· Common shows up as another agent helping track the thieves. He’s wonderful (or very very handsome), but has very little to do.
· Mark Ruffalo plays Dylan Rhodes, and this really is a Mark Ruffalo movie. He carries the movie, and is the central character, which is not at all what the trailers lead you to believe. He does a great job, but is very awkward and strained at the beginning, to the point where I kept saying to myself, “…But Ruffalo is a better actor than this.” As the movie goes along, you spend the most time with his character, and are gradually pulled into his story as he interacts with all the other characters. You begin to buy in to his paranoia, and wonder who he can trust. He does a great job, and the quality of his performance builds during the length of the movie to the climax.
Despite the movie being marketed on the four actors playing the magicians, it is really a Ruffalo flick, and a chase movie more than a heist movie. It snuck up on me, and was much better than I was expecting. And as for the final reveal of who the hooded character is who orchestrated the entire plot – I was surprised, and did not see it coming. There are some plot holes, here and there, but for the most part - it's very entertaining.
7 out of 10 – very slick, very fast, very fun, and some great performances. Gained points for the piranha trick at the beginning, crazy, and wouldn’t that dump piranhas all over the floor? Lost points for Eisenberg – is he really that annoying? Or is he just really good at playing an annoying character? Gained points for the twist, totally got me. Lost points for everyone in this movie being really arrogant all the time. Gained points for the initial magic tricks, pretty slick.
Bonus Video 1 – Unleashed, you should probably rent this.
Bonus Video 2 – The Heist, Ricky Jay is in this, because it’s a David Mamet movie (he’s in all of Mamet’s movies). It’s very good, check it out.
Bonus Video 3 – Zombieland, yes – it is good, check it out.
Bonus Video 4 – Cast Interviews!