It's a maze of smoke and mirrors in Now You See Me. Released in 2013, the $75 million budgeted thriller brought in enough profits to warrant a sequel, Now You See Me 2, released in 2016. The first movie however, is where the magic starts. Louis Leterrier pulls together a unique cast of old and new favorites-including Mark Ruffalo, Woody Harrelson, Jesse Eisenburg, Morgan Freeman, and Dave Franco- to take part in the most detailed and complex plot the magic show business has ever seen.
The film opens with a small peak at the acts of four separate street magicians- the illusionist J. Daniel Atlas (Jesse Eisenburg), the escape artist Henley Reeves (Isla Fisher), the mentalist Merritt McKinney (Woody Harrelson), and a sleight-of-hand pickpocket Jack Wilder(Dave Franco). The magicians become a group called the Four Horsemen after they are anonymously invited to a secret meeting in an abandoned apartment where they discover intricate plans for what is possibly the most daring magic act ever. Years later they are on the stage performing that very act- still not knowing their mysterious patron. The drama only heightens when the finale of the first act of the three part show is nothing short of spectacular-robbing prestigious French bank from the comfort of the MGM Grand in Las Vegas and giving the winnings to an amazed audience. Needless to say, the Four Horsemen are instantly thrown into the limelight-and into the notice of the law. What ensues is a sometimes comical, sometimes thrilling battle of wits between logic and magic as Detective Dylan Rhodes (Mark Ruffalo) and Interpol agent Alma Dray (M鬡nie Laurent) try to understand and apprehend the rogue magicians. For the Horsemen though, its more than just a race against the Feds. They also must keep on despite opposition from a magic critic out to expose their secrets (Morgan Freeman) in order to find out more about the elaborate project- and about themselves. Its a seemingly impossible quest for the Four Horsemen to keep the magic alive, but whatever the outcome, its apparent that theres more at work than what is on the surface of this wild adventure.
The plot of the film is dramatic and complex-much like real magic acts. At times, this intensity, coupled with the mounting suspense, is a little overwhelming. However, as the story progresses and pieces begin to fall into place, the details become clever and entrancing rather than unnecessary and complicated. These small allusions within the illusion have the added benefit of making the movie exciting to watch multiple times, as with each viewing more connections become apparent. The films main characters share the spotlight with subtle collaborations that complement each aspect of the movie. Individual identities do occasionally become somewhat lost as some of the finer details of the film, leaving something to be desired in the explanation of relationships between characters. Dialogue unrelated to magic or money seems a little out of place, and sometimes is unnecessarily crude, but enough details were provided to give at least a little insight into each characters personality. The cast itself is intriguing, with classic and upcoming actors thrown together in a way that should be conflicting, but instead works perfectly. Each cast member seems suited to their part, be it smug or snarky. There are enough special effects to keep the film captivating, but not enough to detract from the acting and storyline-at some points the lack of technical work adds to the appeal of the movie because many of the tricks, including impressive card-throwing stunts, are actually performed rather than created.
Reactions to the movie vary greatly. In general, it wasnít a raving success among professional critics, who felt the plot was unevenly developed. However, audience reactions were generally positive-but also pretty scarce. My best guess is a lack of proper advertising-I originally thought it was a horror movie- and consequently a lack of attention from the public. The movie didnít exactly break the box office, but many of the general viewers who have seen the movie enjoyed it. The limited reception must have been enough for producers though, who saw fit to deliver a sequel, despite having to change directors and some main cast members.
Whatever the conflicting opinions of other viewers, for me Now You See Me is a little bit of modern magic. Its not about cast or budget, publicity or popularity, but about the idea that magic is less about deception and more about faith and wonder. Perhaps Alma Dray said it best: I see it as a strength. My life is happier when I believe that.