Chicago. Danny Atlas (Jesse Eisenberg) performs a magic card trick that woos the ladies and gets him an instant hookup. New Orleans. Has-been mentalist Merritt McKinney (Woody Harrelson) hypnotizes a woman and blackmails her husband into giving him 250 bucks in exchange for keeping his secret. Los Angeles. Escape artist Henley Reeves (Isla Fisher) dives into a water tank in chains, fails to escape, and is showered with piranhas, only to emerge unharmed in the audience a minute later. New York. Jack Wilder (Dave Franco) bends a spoon and challenges his audience to expose his magic trick for a hundred bucks, which one of them does, before he realizes that his wallet has been snatched. All four of them receive a tarot card leading them to an empty New York apartment. One year later, they are headlining their own magic show in Las Vegas under the name Four Horsemen. They treat the audience to an act never before seen on stage: robbing a vault full of money in a Parisian bank, live. As grand theft and magic coincide, it’s up to FBI agent Dylan Rhodes (Mark Ruffalo) to bring them to justice, in a game of cat and mouse that never seems to end.
In the opening scene, Eisenberg asks a girl to choose a card. It is the usual street card trick that we’ve already seen before, but they frame the scene in such a way that it appears he’s not just asking the girl, but the movie audience as well. Imagine how amused I was when the card that I chose appeared on the building behind them by virtue of coordinated lighting. That scene is awesome because it breaks the fourth wall, giving you, as part of the audience, a chance to participate in the magic trick. Sadly, it’s the only one of its kind in the entire movie. But yeah, I was astonished for a second or two.
It is fun to see Morgan Freeman play a villain, but he still can’t shake off the wise old man vibe, which is not a problem at all because it actually benefits his character. Michael Caine’s presence is also very much welcome. Seeing those two square off is just so enjoyable to watch because they are both screen legends in their own right. While the story is not really focused on them, they do contribute a much needed legitimacy to the film as far as acting is concerned.
The four horsemen are okay. They form a good ensemble that makes you value teamwork more than anything else. True enough to what the film would make you want to believe, seeing all four of them together working as a group gives them the gravitas to convince us that they are worth watching, something that is just missing whenever you see them do stuff on their own. Perhaps this is where this movie succeeds, given the difficulty of pulling off such heist thrillers. Either you love it or you hate it, and in the case of Now You See Me, there’s more to love than to hate.
The film has many loopholes, and there are plenty of scenes in which some serious suspension of disbelief is necessary for you to still have a good time. This is not that hard to do, though, because the execution is just so fun to watch. Besides, isn’t that what magic is all about? It's all about presentation, so kudos to the director for coming up with an end product that is not that logical to begin with, leaving us with more questions than answers, but still managing to elicit a wow factor that guarantees a good time. Despite the deficiencies in the storyline, the twists that hit you one right after the other kind of make up for that, substituting coherence with excitement. The good news is that it almost always works.
By the way, watching the sequel before this one gives you a totally different viewing experience because you are already in on the secret. As such, it would be a more critical viewing on your part, analyzing each and every red herring thrown your way to catch you off guard. It raises a lot of questions, but if you convince yourself that everything is just one big act, you’d still get to enjoy the experience.
Just a bit of trivia! That scene with Fisher in the water tank almost cost her life. She almost drowned while shooting, which I guess is the reason why that scene felt a little bit too real. It must have been hard on the set, because her character was supposed to be drowning, and the crew was not able to distinguish reel from real. But she is alive, so everything is good.