Perfect sleight of hand

Now You See Me English (U/A) Director: Louis LeterrierCast: Jesse Eisenberg, Isla Fisher, Woody Harrelson, Morgan Freeman, Dave Franco, Michael Caine

It probably goes without saying that a film about magic needs to contain some special magic of its own. In Now You See Me, an often brilliant film sparking with some wit, director Louis Leterrier has discarded his action film cookie-cutter, which created such titles as The Transporter and Clash of the Titans, in favour of a cerebral, light thriller.
 The plot involves four street magicians, Daniel (Jesse Eisenberg), Henley (Isla Fisher), Jack (Dave Franco) and Merritt (Woody Harrelson), brought together by a mysterious benefactor who promises them entry into the Eye of Horus — a legendary order of master magicians— provided they first complete a set of crucial tasks. 

A year later, they reappear under the lucrative sponsorship of Arthur Tressler (Michael Caine), a high-rolling insurance magnet, with a new act and a catchy new nickname, The Four Horsemen. In what is their most spectacular stunt, the quartet seemingly teleport a man from their audience to his bank’s vault in Paris, where he activates an air-duct to empty the  bank’s coffers, allowing the money to be rained onto the floor of the show in faraway Las Vegas.  When bank officials discover, to their horror, that the money has actually been stolen, FBI agent Dylan Rhodes (Mark Ruffalo) and Interpol officer Alma Vargas (Mélanie Laurent), are hastily dispatched to bring the magicians to justice.

There is no doubt that Leterrier intends for this film to break through the mystical barrier into the realm of pure wizardry. Movies themselves may be a kind of magic these days, but they have come so far that it has become near impossible to see something new. It’s like seeing that old trick of a magician pulling a rabbit from a top-hat. The thrill no longer exists. But Leterrier’s Now You See Me closely follows the principles of a magic trick. Much of the story is pure misdirection, before the “turn” occurs, forcing the tale onto its final, exhilarating trajectory.

Part of the film’s allure involves the stellar cast, which also includes Morgan Freeman as the magic debunker, Thaddeus Bradley. The film has also reunites Eisenberg with his memorable Zombieland costar, Woody Harrelson. Even Fisher, known for her forgettable roles in B-grade comedies, shines. 

At least a double viewing may be necessary to be able to completely absorb the plot, its nuances and its flaws. The sometimes overdrawn second act, which operates by continuously suppressing Murphy’s Law, offers the illusion that success can be impeccable and perfect – an illusion only possible in storytelling. 

Now You See Me may border on the farfetched at times, but like with any great magic trick, a little bit of suspended disbelief is needed for the fun to continue.

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