Sunday, 28 July 2013

Now You See Me (2013)

This is a film my friend Michael has intended to see for a good long while, as he nurtures a keen interest in magic and is quite an impressive magician himself (he does events!). Organised the minute I got back from my Borneo trip, we went back to Ocean Terminal for another film-watching day out: Now You See Me, followed by Frankie and Benny's for dinner, and then The World's End to round off the evening. I admit to having been quite excited myself. I'm fascinated by magic tricks (who isn't?), and Now You See Me's USP is that all the tricks featured in the film were performed for real.

This is an impressive claim, considering the huge scale of everything featured in the film. One trick in particular, where Isla Fisher tosses two ribbons in the air and they dance about before revealing the huge machine that has appeared from thin air behind the material, seems suspiciously computer animated. This isn't the problem, though. The tricks are spectacular, and the knowledge that at least some of them were performed for real (David Copperfield is credited as a 'magic advisor' on the film) adds a further layer to the magic. No, the problem is the whole business of linking together all the tricks with a tangible storyline.

I loved the idea of a group of magicians carrying out the crime of the century. From the scenes in the trailer - 'We are going to rob a bank!', Jesse Eisenberg switching the handcuffs in the interrogation room - that looked like what it was going to be. I was looking forward to a reverse Jonathan Creek, where the magicians use their skills to carry out the crime rather than solve it. They would vanish in a puff of smoke from their jail cell, and then go on to explain how they did it. That was the film I wanted to see, and that's what the first section of the film is like. I enjoyed it, even if the explanations were a bit tenuous.

Then it all gets a bit... Dan Brown. A hooded figure leaves the four magicians (Jesse Eisenberg, Isla Fisher, Woody Harrelson and Dave Franco) a calling card, instructing them to meet at a deserted apartment. It is there that they are instructed on how to carry out these huge crimes. From there it's downhill into Da Vinci Code territory, with Interpol getting involved, police chases through major cities and eventually, director Louis Leterrier just going the whole nine yards and introducing a mysterious ancient society.

The magnificent all-star cast, clearly drawn in by the attractive synopsis, are tragically wasted. Morgan Freeman's character, an ex-magician who now reveals to the public how other illusionists do their tricks, is far less interesting than he should be. He spends a majority of his time teasing everyone else by not telling them how the tricks were done. Out of the main four magicians (known in the movie as the Four Horsemen), Leterrier clearly favours Eisenberg and Harrelson. Isla Fisher plays a generic female part, bitter with Eisenberg after some previous relationship, and Dave Franco's character is terribly dull. He's an amateur who's better at pickpocketing than magic, an interesting premise but that's all we really find out. Mark Ruffalo's grumbling cop character has well over the regulatory amount of clich├ęs ('I refuse to do any research that might help with the investigation, I just want to find these guys and shoot 'em!').

Now You See Me is a film with so much going for it. Woody Harrelson and Michael Caine are wonderful as always, and the idea of an extraordinary Ocean's Eleven is undeniably good. Unfortunately, the story's lost me by the ridiculous twist ending, which must have come in too late to fit in any sort of explanation afterwards. I left with more questions than answers, and not in a good way. Leterrier tries his best to weave a fast-paced and intelligent thriller, but there's just not enough room for any of his characters. Hopefully someone will grab this premise and squeeze out the full potential.

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