Wednesday 24 July 2013

Now You See Me

Directing Misdirection

Now You See Me
2013 France/USA
Directed by Louis Leterrier
Playing at cinemas now.

Warning: There are spoilers here if you haven’t seen the trailer...

There are four horseman... this is the name of four magicians who were once solo acts but who have now teamed up together for a special series of illusions. The apocalypse analogy isn’t really pushed and, I think, is merely being used because the writers thought it was a cool name.

Now then... I liked this movie quite a bit in many ways. It’s certainly a fun romp and the director over-directs it to the point where you’re just sucked into his vertiginous camerawork right from the start. Seriously, even when nothing much is happening, the camera is performing all sorts of Herculean motions to just constantly keep things moving along... and it does this really well. It works. 

However, the film is not without it’s problems and, although I was happy to be mollified and entertained by the shiny manifestations of celluloidal hocus pocus on screen, truth be told, it’s all a rather predictable affair. And that part of it starts with the script and continues, for a lot of us people who happened to catch it, into the trailer material for the film... they give too much away. To be fair, they also throw it at you on a plate in the movie too but... well, okay, look...

When you watch the trailer you get a sense that, unless the movie is actually entering into a realm of supernatural magical manifestations, you are seeing staged illusions. You also, presumably, know that the sheer impossibility of the tricks would involve at least one “undercover operator” blended into the mix and, when you watch the trailer, I think you pretty much get a sense of who that is. This is further emphasised in the film although, to be fair, the movie is a tad contradictory in its attitude too.

The pre-credits set up, like pretty much all of the rest of the film, is vastly entertaining and sucks you right in... to a tale of four lone “magicians” and the way they are recruited together by an unseen (mostly) presence... before reappearing a year later as a team, ready to wow the world by teleporting a man into a bank and stealing vast quantities of money before redistributing it back to their audience. Two things here... one is you have the idea that there is an unseen mastermind behind all the “magical” shenanigans that go on in the movie but, secondly, you get to figure out roughly the way the first big illusion is done, which turns out to be pretty much the only way you could do it (so it’s easy to figure out people!).

Once we’ve met the four horsemen, played by Jesse Eisenberg, Woody Harrelson, Isla Fisher and Dave Franco, we’ve got some measure of the way they all work together as a team and it’s time to take note of the other major players. You have the FBI agent played by the always excellent Mark Ruffallo, who is on the case but constantly being ridiculed by his inability to figure things out. He is aided and abetted by a stand out performance by Mélanie Laurent as his new “across the seas” partner for the case. The film, being about magic tricks, is all about misdirection and, at one point, the director tries to misdirect the audience into thinking this character isn’t all she seems... but the problem with that is, you’ve already figured something out by then, I’m guessing. You also have the team’s agent, played by the always reliable Michael Caine, who has his own reasons for being in on promoting The Four Horsemen (one of whom is a Horsewoman, by the way) and, lastly, you have Morgan Freeman as a professional debunker, brought in by the FBI to help crack the case.

The set up is fine and, as I’ve said, it’s all vastly entertaining. 

There’s also some really good chemistry between the actors. I already knew Eisenberg and Harrelson worked well together due to their brilliant double act in Zombieland but Isla Fisher is especially good as Eisenberg’s “ex assistant made good” and the way the dialogue uses the rivalry between her and her fellow horsemen works really well. Franco’s pretty cool too, but he does have less to do than the others, apart from one key sequence in which, to be fair, his character is highlighted a lot more than his fellow magicians. So yeah, the actual dialogue in the movie is the one element of the writing which really is quite sharp and a pleasure to hear, especially when you hear it from the lips of such marvellous performers.

The film does fall down in it’s “big reveal” near the end though. If, by some chance, you haven’t figured it out by that point then all well and good... although I doubt you’ll get all the way through without twigging just where the misdirection is being aimed. However, a big problem is that The Four Horsemen don’t seem to know who is running the show until the end either, and that means that the person you have been suspecting all along wasn’t helping them with some of their tricks. Further, it means that the person manipulating events in the movie, for reasons you’ll discover fairly early on and then forget about, actually braves significant danger at a few points when, in reality, this person would not have needed to do any of that to ensure that the illusions played out the way they are supposed to. So it’s a shame that the final solution to this movie relies on a good old bit of Hollywood hokum itself to try to give weight to its own end game. It kind of falls short in regards to this and makes you wonder just why the person pulling the strings acted the way he did when he really didn’t need to make so much effort... still, it adds some nicely shot action sequences into the mix, so there’s that.

Another thing which left me wanting, or at least puzzled, was what the Woody Harrelson character refers to as “the pot of gold at the end”. When we find out what the so called pot of gold is... well I just didn’t understand why anyone would be interested. I might have missed something, I’m thinking, because the second to last sequence of the film, which signals the last scene for the four magicians, is in fact not unlike the ending of Michelangelo Antonioni’s Blow Up in some respects. It hints at more beneath the surface... but then again, that takes away the motivation for the person behind all the shenanigans to bother at all, to be honest. It might have, kinda, held up if it wasn’t immediately followed by a bizarre and unwanted little romantic scene at the end... or would have at least been a little stronger as a statement about the nature of what you have been watching... but as it is it just didn’t work for me. There was no motivation for the four characters to be doing what they were doing and so it lost the sense a bit for me. One wonders if the original script started out as one thing and then kept getting changed and lost sense on the way. If just feels wrong.

A quick shout out, though, to Brian Tyler’s excellent score which is noticeable even among all the ballyhoo and the extra energetic camerawork. It’s a shame that this doesn’t look like getting a score release anytime soon as I would have liked to have grabbed a CD of this one at some point. It serves the film well and emphasises the staginess of the profession of The Four Horsemen well, it has to be said. 

At the end of the day, sense or no sense, Now You See Me is an entertaining diversion and it won’t disappoint, at least in terms of never being boring and always speeding along and being up to something. It trades in good old movie magic, even if it does outweigh the on-screen magic which is supposed to be carrying the story along. Certainly a good night out at the cinema... provided you don’t think about the end game too much.

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