“Come in close. No, closer. I want you to really pay attention because the closer you look, the less you’ll see.”
With these words, J. Daniel Atlas sets the tone for Now You See Me, warning us not to focus too much on what he and his fellow magicians are doing, but to look at the big picture…the overall plan. Sadly, curious creatures that we are, we can’t help but look closely, trying to catch them in the act, believing we’re a step ahead when we’re actually three steps behind.
Three steps behind is exactly where FBI agent Dylan Rhodes (Mark Ruffalo, The Avengers, Shutter Island) is, chasing an elite group of magicians who call themselves The Four Horsemen. The Horsemen consist of magicians with different backgrounds: there’s Atlas (Jesse Eisenberg, Zombieland, The Social Network), a David Blaine-style street magician; Merritt McKinney (Woody Harrelson, Zombieland, Kingpin), a mentalist; Henley Reeves (Isla Fisher, Wedding Crashers, Bachelorette), an escape artist; and Jack Wilder (Dave Franco, Superbad, TV’s Scrubs), a pickpocket who uses magic tricks to distract his victims. Backed by wealthy mogul Arthur Tressler (Michael Caine, Inception, The Prestige), the group attracts the attention of Rhodes when they seem to rob a bank in Paris from their show in Las Vegas. To reveal much more would risk giving away spoilers, but the Paris heist sets off a game of cat-and-mouse filled with more twists and turns than a Jeffery Deaver novel.
The casting for this film could not have been better. Eisenberg channels his inner Zuckerberg to play Atlas, the group’s smug and charismatic spokesman. Harrelson’s McKinney is hilarious, yet keeps an air of danger about him, much like Tallahassee in Zombieland. Henley could have easily been just another pretty face, but Fisher plays her with a sassy and confident attitude that makes her impossible to overlook. (The outfits she wears don’t hurt either.) Dave Franco gives older brother James some style lessons (especially during his fight scene) as Wilder, the group’s youngest — but definitely not least talented — member. These four perform together with such ease; it’s easy to believe they’re a legit magic act. Eisenberg and Harrelson pick up right where they left off from fighting zombies, and Fisher and Franco fit right in.
On the other side of the law, Ruffalo nails the role of Agent Rhodes. He takes what could be a stereotypical G-man part and gives it depth, adding little things like gritting his teeth when asking for help from professional magic debunker Thaddeus Bradley (Morgan Freeman, Bruce Almighty, The Shawshank Redemption) to make us feel like we’re on the hunt with him. Bradley is our guide to magic, explaining how each trick is done. Freeman delivers these explanations calmly, yet with a hint of exasperation; like a tired teacher explaining a basic concept to his class yet again. His scenes with Caine are really intense, as these two old bulls try to back the other into a corner.
As good as the actors are, the story is even better. This isn’t a remake, a sequel or adapted from a comic book. That’s probably what makes this so refreshing. Admittedly, I’m a sucker for a good heist film, but Now You See Me is much more than that. Like a good Devil’s food cake, it has multiple layers, not all of which are apparent. One of my biggest pet peeves is plot twists that don’t make sense (*cough Signs cough*), but every reveal in this movie is logical and well thought-out. Everything makes sense when viewed in hindsight. I also liked the fact that I didn’t feel stupid when the reveals happened. Instead, I was more inclined to tip my hat and say, “Well done!”
Now You See Me has a lot going for it: a great cast, a great story, plenty of humor and a dash of action to take the excitement to the next level. I was expecting this to be good, but Now You See Me really surprised me. Just remember: the closer you look, the less you’ll see.