With news of his latest self-imposed exile from filmmaking, just as his Liberace biopic was hitting the HBO airwaves, Steven Soderburgh’s absence as a force in American cinema will be a sorely missed. Yes, his fans, including myself, are losing a great cinema caper maker. Thankfully we are reminded of the soon-to-be-retired helmer’s boldly exciting thrill rides (“Ocean’s Eleven (and its lesser sequels) and “Out of Sight“) with Louis Leterrier’s wink-filled heist flick “Now You See Me.”
Whether it’s the captivating direction (Leterrier rebooted “The Incredible Hulk” and helmed the fast-paced “Transporter”—at 26!—and its first sequel); a tense and mesmerizingly seductive screenplay by Ed Solomon (“Men in Black”) and Boaz Yakin (“Safe”, “Hostel“) & Edward Ricourt; the totally in-sync cast that carries on a nuanced, enchanting banter; the glossy, the adrenaline-racing camerawork by Mitchell Amundsen (“Wanted” and second unit work on a ton of stunt-driven tentpoles) for the action sequences, and the intricate, swirling photography of the illusion sequences by Larry Fong (“300,” “Watchmen“); a crackerjack Mission Impossible-style score by Brian Tyler; or awesome production design by Peter Wenham, “Now You See Me” is an electrifying joyride. Multi-talented Alex Kurtzman and Robert Orci (both “Star Trek” features and a ton of successful TV and film projects) join Bobby Cohen (“Revolutionary Road“) as producers. Quite a pedigree, and the film fires on all its cylinders.
“The closer you look, the less you see.”
That’s the film’s magical mantra. It might also make you want to see the film again because you might have missed something. It has that kind of infectious wonder about it.
The spectacle begins with a segment that introduces us to a group of variety acts, some as big as a skyscraper, others many stories smaller. The big sendoff belongs to the shaggy-haired, stubble-faced, and highly arrogant J. Daniel Atlas (Jesse Eisenberg), an extraordinary card trickster, followed by shyster mind reader-mentalist-hypnotist Merritt McKinney (Woody Harrelson) jamming up a couple in need in counseling, then on to street smart magician-pickpocket Jack Wilder (Dave “Warm Bodies” Franco), and ending with the show-stopping Houdini-esque, piranha-defying escape artist Henly Reeves (Isla Fisher, thankfully, in non-ditzy mode), Daniel’s former assistant. It’s a great come-on sequence that will morph, a year later, into a supreme Las Vegas performance at the MGM Grand. The group, which has been assembled by a mysterious hooded stranger (Keyser Söze, perhaps?), who has provided each a Tarot card, calls itself The Four Horsemen. This high octane blending of all of their strengths is bankrolled by insurance mogul Arthur Tressler (Michael Caine), while Morgan Freeman takes on the role of the famed magic debunker Thaddeus Bradley. The group audaciously informs the sold-out crowd that it will rob a Parisian bank during its presentation. With audience-pleasing flair, it does just that.
In comes FBI Special Agent Dylan Rhodes (Mark Ruffalo) to investigate, with Interpol detective Alma (Mélanie Laurent) hoisted upon him to collaborate. The Horsemen, brought in for questioning, quickly turn the interrogation tables on the authorities.
The film’s already exhilarating intensity grows 40 minutes in, when the quartet, months later, performs in New Orleans and provides some amusing relief for Hurricane Katrina’s victims. Meanwhile the cat-and-mouse chase continues with the foursome and the FBI with some startling over-the-top stunt work on the streets of New York. The final act jaw-drops in a building in Queens and centers around an earlier safe robbery.
“Now You See Me” will keep you entranced from start to finish, and will keep you guessing as to who and what for most of that. Like TV’s “Leverage,” some of the answers to the super-sized MacGyver gimmicks will play out later, and I’ll be damned if I’ll satisfy you with any spoilers.
The brilliant heist caper and the fascinating realm of illusion blend flawlessly in the summer’s most intelligent film. Forget the drudgery of “The Hangover, Part III,” (Please! If you haven’t seen it, don’t!) or the dull Will Smith sci-fi entry “After Earth” playing at the multiplex. “Fast & Furious 6” is a fun, terrific, heart-racing, popcorn-munching movie. But if you want real satisfaction for your box office buck, you’ll find it watching “Now You See Me.” And then you’ll tell your friends how much you enjoyed it.
p.s. I’ll be watching it again, and again, very soon.