“That’s a lot of excitement for a crime”
As the characters in Louis Leterrier‘s Now You See Me love to say, the more you see the less you know. This is the line of deflection The Four Horsemen love to package as their neat and tidy rule, ignoring the constant, ever-apparent question magicians and illusionists have refused to answer since the first trick was performed: “How did you do that?” It’s a loaded query posited with full knowledge that understanding would only render the feeling of disbelief we hunger to experience moot. I’ve always loved magic because I know it’s all a trick. The unexplainable is mere coincidence, but the impossible made possible—something meticulously planned to cause me to think it is impossible—can’t help but inspire me to achieve such a level of expertise in my own field.
This desire for ultimate professionalism and efficacy is what brings egomaniacal lone wolves J. Daniel Atlas (Jesse Eisenberg), Merritt McKinney (Woody Harrelson), Henley Reeves (Isla Fisher), and Jack Wilder (Dave Franco) together in the first place. All masters of illusion, expert con artists, and selfish to a fault, there’s only one thing powerful enough to force them into putting grudges and their competitive spirit aside. It begins with a mysterious hooded figure following them around to make sure of their worth, continues through the placement of a tarot card invitation leading them to a loft in New York City, and ends in a magnificent trio of performances that will wow audiences and infuriate the police. Their end game and puppet master may remain shrouded in secrecy, but their showmanship will not be contained.
Screenwriters Boaz Yakin and Edward Ricourt—with what I’m assuming was a rewrite from Ed Solomon—crafted their story into a grand illusion of its own. Following the magician’s creed above, they give us a surplus of visual stimulation as subterfuge to plant their seeds of misdirection. We’re first entertained by each artist’s powers on an individual level to understand their specific skill sets before witnessing how perfectly suited their union could be on a Vegas stage. And while we’re reveling in their mastery we almost forgive the fact everybody on their trail from detective Dylan Rhodes (Mark Ruffalo) to Interpol’s Alma Dray (Mélanie Laurent) to ex-illusionist turned famed debunker Thaddeus Bradley (Morgan Freeman) is introduced as a newcomer to the circus. All are fresh and therefore all possible suspects.
So we watch them rob a Parisian bank through a teleportation illusion, begin to understand the appeal such brilliantly charismatic performers would conjure in a millionaire like financial backer Arthur Tressler (Michael Caine), and begin to forget how someone manufactured this team. We become so willingly distracted that we give the filmmakers free reign to manipulate every anticipation and thought in the process. I was hooked—like many I’m sure—from Eisenberg’s Atlas’ opening card trick. Flipping through his deck twice, he made sure my eye focused on the one card he lets linger a fraction of a second longer than the rest. He may have asked the actress onscreen to remember it before exposing the identity on a skyscraper’s façade, but I paid attention too. And he was right.
In a general sense, Now You See Me is like any other popcorn summer flick with comedy, thrills, action, and mystery. It’s exactly what you would expect from a guy like Leterrier, infused by a more intelligent premise and hungry desire to go beyond normal constraints. I won’t lie and say it’s completely successful—the way too smart for its own good climactic revelation finds itself anything but a surprise when everything before it served as a deliberate process of elimination game controlling our attention too well to ever seem natural—but it is without a doubt entertaining from start to finish. We get to enjoy the tricks, peek behind the curtain courtesy of Freeman’s Bradley helping the police, and laugh as the Horsemen forever remain two steps ahead at every turn.
Each actor plays to his/her strengths, but it is Eisenberg, Harrelson, and especially Franco who steal the show. Jesse plays the same character type he has his entire career, but the guy does pompous dick better than anyone so I really can’t fault his choices. Harrelson also performs the usual sarcastic cockiness we know and love, shining at the start when hypnotizing a cheating husband’s wife in a fantastic “mentalist” shake down for cash. And Franco—sounding and acting more like his brother James than ever—is a treat as the most morally ambiguous member of the troupe. Unafraid to pick locks or steal wallets, his underappreciated Jack eventually finds himself fighting alongside a garbage disposal and deck of cards against both Ruffalo and Michael Kelly in one of the film’s biggest and best sequences.
Watching the physicality of Franco’s fight spill into a high speed car chase amps up the adrenaline and makes you wonder where the magic begins or ends. Con games run rampant, everyone looking to bring the Horsemen down appear complicit to the act at one time or another, and the mystery of when the next hypnotized victim plays air violin is a running joke. Knowing about the quasi Robin Hood game partially explained in the trailer is all you should allow yourself to discover before watching because the David Copperfield-like performances are a treat to watch cold. The twists and turns may never feel completely authentic as the lengths the Horsemen go become extreme enough to require dumb luck, but the ride to its somewhat meh conclusion is definitely worth a spin for magic fans.
 (Clockwise from bottom) DAVE FRANCO, JESSE EISENBERG, ISLA FISHER and WOODY HARRELSON star in NOW YOU SEE ME Photo: Barry Wetcher, SMPSP © 2013 Summit Entertainment, LLC. All rights reserved.
 (L to R) MORGAN FREEMAN and MICHAEL CAINE star in NOW YOU SEE ME. Ph: Barry Wetcher © 2013 Summit Entertainment, LLC. All rights reserved.
 MÉLANIE LAURENT and MARK RUFFALO star in NOW YOU SEE ME. Ph: Barry Wetcher © 2013 Summit Entertainment, LLC. All rights reserved.