Directed by Louis Leterrier
Written by Ed Solomon, Boaz Yakin, and more
Starring Jesse Eisenberg, Mark Ruffalo, Woody Harrelson and more.
A great magician controls the audience’s attention with the skill of the best chess masters. They want you to try and pick the trick apart in your head, finding all the trap doors and secret compartments, because they’re already three steps ahead of you. You may think you’ve solved the puzzle, but that’s only because the magician want you to feel that way.
“Now You See Me,” starring Jessie Eisenberg and Mark Ruffalo, is the most magnificent sleight-of-hand to come out of Hollywood in a long time. The entire movie is constructed like an enormous magic trick, unfolding surprise after surprise that lures the audience in ever more deeply. The distractions come in all the right places, but you’re never entirely certain what’s a distraction and what’s real until the last few minutes. Even when you’re certain you’ve figured the movie out, it’s only because director Louis Leterrier wants you to feel that way.
To reveal too much of the plot would cheat you out of some of the movie’s greatest pleasures, so I’ll stick to what’s revealed in the trailers. Eisenburg, Woody Harrelson, Isla Fisher and Dave Franco are magicians who at one point during a show announce they’re going to rob a bank. Crimes are committed. The FBI, including Ruffalo, is extremely upset. Morgan Freeman and Michael Caine stop by. Magic happens.
Eisenburg shows off a sharper version of his usual fussy superiority, transforming it into arrogance worthy of a man whose entire career lies in manipulating his audience. Fisher is both earthy and humorous, adding some complexity to a role that might have just been a pretty face. Franco has the charm of his older brother James but thankfully dispenses with the other man’s grating qualities, and Harrelson is hilarious without ever tipping over into wackiness.
Ruffalo is great as a straightforward agent caught up in a game where a triple-cross is just the beginning. Melanie Laurent is a graceful onscreen presence as his Interpol partner, a breath of serenity in the middle of the movie’s frenetic twists. Michael Caine and Morgan Freeman combine their usual gravitas with just a touch of menace to fantastic effect.
“Now You See Me” is the kind of movie you’ll try to dissect on the way out of the theater, and maybe even for days afterward. The movie helps with the process, explaining just enough of the magicians’ tricks to make you think you’ve got a grasp on the story. It’s what they don’t explain that will be spinning in your thoughts all the way home.
For me, it was the elegant little trick they used to open the movie. It begins with Eisenberg performing a card trick on a suitably attractive member of his street audience. He asked her to pick a card, facing the movie screen and holding the cards up as if we were the audience member. As they sped by, I idly identified my own card almost without thinking about it.