Movie Thoughts: Now You See Me (2013)

nowyouseemeFinally got around to seeing Now You See Me over the weekend.  I’d heard positive buzz on the movie when it was in theaters last summer, but missed it during the theatrical run.

Watching the movie on DVD, I had some thoughts on it and how I think that while it’s got some interesting piece, they don’t necessarily all come together in the final reel.

But in order to discuss that, I’ll have to include SPOILERS.  So, if you haven’t seen the movie yet and don’t want to know the twists, please stop reading now.

In the (limited) extras on the DVD, the writers and producers of Now You See Me describe the film as a “heist film with the magic.”  And I can certainly see how the first 90 or so minutes of the film back this up.   Because for those first 90 minutes of so, the movie is a fun, entertaining popcorn film that appears to be trying to sew the seeds that it will or could be something more in the final act.

Four seemingly unrelated magicians are summoned to New York City by a mysterious benefactor.  One year later, we they’ve joined forces as the Four Horsemen to a sold out show in Las Vegas.  The highlight of the show is their final illusion in which they appear to rob a bank in France.

This puts the group on the radar of FBI agent Dylan Rhodes.  Joined by Interpol agent Alma Dray, Rhodes tries to figure out how the Horsemen pulled off the heist.   He consults with Thaddeus Bradley, a former magician who now debunks magical acts on his web site.  Bradley repeatedly warns Rhodes that the Horsemen are using misdirection on he and the rest of his FBI team.

Early on, I figured this warning meant that Dray would somehow be in on the heists and was serving as a mole for the Horsemen.    Luckily enough, the movie proves that its following its own advice and using misdirection to draw suspicion away from the real person pulling all the strings in this case.

After bilking their billionaire sponsor out of his money and returning it to audience members his company allegedly short-changed after Hurricane Katrina, the magicians set up for their final illusion in New York City.

The film wisely explains exactly how the Four Horseman will pull off many of the illusions and tricks done in the piece — including how they got access to the billionaires bank accounts.  A simple game of trying to prove one member is psychic gets said billionaire to reveal personal details that can be used to give them on-line access to his accounts.   It also tells us how an illusion involving stealing a safe is pulled off late in the game.

All of this works in setting things up for what could be an interesting final act.  However, it’s once that final act arrives that things fall apart.

It turns out that Rhodes is the mastermind behind all of this.  His career in the FBI is a ruse and part of a long-game to get revenge on several people and companies for the death of his father.  His father was an illusionist whose final trick went horribly wrong, leaving Rhodes bitter and an orphan.  Bradley was part of debunking his father’s show, leading to the need to try a spectacular illusion to win back faith and fans, which explains why Rhodes wants him involved.

Again, I liked the fact that Dray is a red herring in the script.  However, once Rhodes reveals his elaborate plan and why he brought the Horseman together, the explanation just doesn’t feel earned or all that satisfying.

The film wants us to root for the anti-heroes.  But the big problem is that none of these anti-heroes is developed enough as a character to make us want to pull for them.  Other than knowing that the Four Horseman are all great magicians, the film gives none of them much in the way of distinguishing characteristics.  And it’s a shame that the movie doesn’t allow us to invest in the Horsemen or Rhodes a bit more.    Had it done that it, it would have been a solid, well-built blockbuster that while it won’t win any awards, entertained me for the two hours I spent watching it.

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