Friday, May 31, 2013

Mark at the Movies: Now You See Me

Back in the day during my film critique studies (in college), we were taught that the title of a movie is usually - though not always - indicative of a film's main theme, or is used to underscore the message of the movie. Here, with this picture, your mind immediately leaps to the rest of this phrase: " you don't." In fact, that is one of the key lines in an early scene.

What the title is trying to tell us, I believe, is that the movie's heart lies in misdirection --> what you don't see. And, indeed, that turns out to be the case.

Plot: Four magicians with diverse talents, working mostly in little known locales for whatever they can shake out from a crowd, are recruited to become "The Four Horsemen" by a mysterious benefactor and the next thing you know (a year later), they're playing Vegas. Turns out their public appearances come in three "acts" and the first is robbing a bank right there, live on stage (and in France, no less), with the help of an innocent audience member. The second act involves ripping off an insurance company (with an interesting twist), and the final performance includes stealing a huge safe loaded with cash. As soon as the first heist is performed, however, the FBI is called in (and even Interpol due to the French connection) and the group has also attracted the attention of a magic "debunker" and all three spend the remainder of the film chasing the quartet and being led a merry chase, indeed. About a third of the way through the film we are introduced to "The Eye," a secret cult of "true" magicians dedicated to taking from the rich and giving to the poor which is, in fact, what The Four Horsemen do in their first two acts. The movie is all about what happens next, and will they get away with it all, and why were they doing it in the first place?

Players: Jesse Eisenberg headlines the mostly well-known cast as lead magician J. Daniel Atlas and grinds through his scenes with a capital Smug. Mark Ruffalo plays the beleaguered and often dumbfounded FBI agent Dylan Rhodes, saddled with this no-win case. Woody Harrelson is mentalist Merritt McKinney who proves to be a skilled observationalist and owns a piercing stare. Isla Fisher portrays escape artist (and former stage aide to Atlas) Henley Reeves. The last of the quartet is Jack Wilder, acted by Dave Franco (the brother of James Franco). French actress Mélanie Laurent is re-introduced to American audiences (after her turn in "Inglorious Basterds") as Interpol detective Alma Dray and represents belief to Rhodes' skepticism. The always watchable Morgan Freeman is around to explain how some things were done as debunk artist Thaddeus Bradley, and Michael Caine is pretty much wasted here as insurance mogul and financier Arthur Tressler.

Performance: With so much plot ground to cover, the story must by default leave these characters' back stories practically untold, so it's difficult to work up much enthusiasm for anyone in the movie, except Ruffalo, who has the most screen time and always seems to come across as a sympathetic nice guy. The script does leave us with some questions that more or less cheat us of an honest ending, and sour the nature of a major character, but I can't fault the actors for this.

Point: There is no point to this movie. Nothing deep. No hidden meanings. Just a slick, captivating thrill ride with mostly unexpected twists throughout. The most honest line of dialogue is when Morgan Freeman utters, "When a magician says here's the magic (pointing with one hand), you can be sure the trick is actually being done elsewhere." Eisenberg utters several times throughout the film, "The closer you look, the less you'll see."

Particulars: I found nothing terribly objectionable here. There are no scary scenes, no bloody violence. It is rated PG-13 but I didn't even hear the one F-bomb these films are allowed, which was a relief. There were a few instances where God's name was added to "damn" that didn't need to happen, and "sh--" abounded throughout, of course. Early in the movie a young lady whips off her dress to reveal a pretty figure in lingerie and some mild innuendo follows, but nothing comes of it.

Raymond's Rating: Two stars. While the movie was impressive in its execution, there were too many characters, too much plot, and not enough meat in the story to sustain any kind of emotional connection to the film. I wonder how things would have played out had the revelation at the end of the film been delivered earlier, and if more reason had been given for Morgan Freeman's character to go through what he did at the end. After all was said and done, I found myself watching just to see what was going to happen next. Perhaps that's all I should expect from a summer flick.


Mark's Musings is published on a periodical basis - right now on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays - but that may change without notice. Find me on Twitter at This blog is considered to be a digital periodical publication and is filed as such with the U.S. Library of Congress; ISSN 2154-9761. Abracadabra.

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