wogma rating: Add to that never-watched 'To Watch' list (?)
Directed by Louis Leterrier and co-written by Boaz Yakin, Now You See Me deceives you more often than it should, and doesn’t offer you quite enough in return. Despite an ensemble cast and a superb (and largely original) premise, the film runs out of genuine tricks a tad too early. Watchable enough, though you might see through the illusions far earlier than they want you to.Read more
If there’s one thing that one just has to grant the makers of Now You See Me, it is the fact that it seems like such a rarity these days to get a big, star-studded, concept flick that isn’t a sequel, reboot, remake or adaptation. That isn’t to say that Now You See Me has very much going for it apart from this. Despite a hooking premise and a palpable sense of tension that it creates by always seeming to have one last trick up its sleeve, the film runs out of steam by overplaying its hand a tad too often.
With its foot on the pedal from the word go, the film introduces us to four different street magicians who are all united by a mysterious hooded figure for a larger purpose; the Four Horsemen, as they are then called, begin pulling off a series of grand illusions, with the continuous promise of coming back for the grandest deception of them all.
Building up on sleight-of-hand tricks that we’ve seen ever so often (inspired from those by illusionist David Copperfield), the film coasts breezily along because of the mystery that it manages to evoke right from its initial frames. As one character after another is introduced, the proceedings begin to gain momentum, succeeding at least initially, in having you hooked.
However, you know things are bound to go south when the film never eases up on the twists and turns, except for when it goes off on to a predictably cumbersome almost-romantic track between Mélanie Laurent and Mark Ruffalo, who play Interpol and FBI agents respectively, both of whom are hot on the trail of the Four Horsemen. The film comes a cropper in its last act, when all of the build up, the deception and the grand journey leading up the climax - the prestige, if you will – turns out to be a bit of a damp squib, with the final few twists being predictable from a mile away.
Also, the film has to be one of most miscast films in recent times, with some terrific actors playing bit roles that didn’t deserve them, and which they could have played in their sleep. Morgan Freeman and Michael Caine in particular, have particularly thankless roles. Even the characters played by Laurent and Ruffalo, for that matter, could have just as easily been played by anyone else. Having said that, both of them play their parts expectedly well.
The Four Horsemen, played by Jesse Eisenberg, Isla Fisher, Woody Harrelson and Dave Franco, do manage to pull off their characters fairly well. Eisenberg, in particular, seems to be a chameleon; I didn’t think he could portray the suave, confident magician with the ease that he did. Fisher looks great, Harrelson is quirky as always, and Dave Franco seems a little rough around the edges, but he manages to hold fort.
My biggest problem with the film, however, is how it misuses the audio-visual medium in an attempt to throw viewers off track from where it is heading, before rudely jerking them back with a twist out of the blue. Common tradecraft in big Indian as well as American films, where the fact that you can ‘show’ viewers something is misused blatantly by showing them something that doesn’t really exist or by twisting the intent of the visual, to confuse them. (Think of all those times a character has turned his back on others in the scene to give a ‘mysterious’ expression that only the audience can see, only to never be referred to again in the film, or later explained away with some unconvincing bit of back story.)
This film literally derives its trickery from this concept. Alfred Hitchcock’s favourite term, ‘MacGuffin’, used to describe this device, sounds innocuous enough, but is something that I’ve personally had a problem with if not achieved cinematically. Now You See Me is pretty much one grand MacGuffin after another, shamelessly used throughout the film (and not to very good effect, I might add, if I could still spot some of the twists way before they even revealed that a twist was coming).
Despite these hiccups that pepper the film, Now You See Me isn’t really unwatchable, because of a premise that genuinely held potential and a few moments that do make you sit up and wonder. If you don’t mind being played for a while and deceived more often than you’ll remember once the film is done, then you might just have some guilty fun. Otherwise, I suggest you wait for the film to come out on satellite or DVD, and go back to the 307th word of this review, for a film that I’d recommend instead.
This article is by guest author Pradeep Menon. Pradeep is a filmmaker and a dreamer. He loves books, rain, winters, tea and his parents. Cinema, however, is the only truth he believes in. He breathes and bleeds film, mostly in hues of saffron, white, green and blue. You can watch his short films at www.youtube.com/cyberpradeep.
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