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Feature


The Four Horsemen, a magic super-group led by the charismatic J. Daniel Atlas (Jesse Eisenberg), perform a pair of high-tech, high-profile magic shows – first in amazing audiences by remotely robbing a Paris bank while in Las Vegas and then exposing a white-collar criminal and funneling his millions into the audience members' bank accounts, baffling the authorities. FBI Special Agent Dylan Rhodes (Mark Ruffalo) is determined to make the magicians pay for their crime and to stop them before they pull off what promises to be an even more audacious heist. But he's forced to partner with Alma (Mélanie Laurent), an Interpol detective about whom he is instantly suspicious. Out of desperation, he turns to a famed magic debunker, who claims the Paris bank trick was actually a meticulously-planned illusion. Dylan and Alma begin to wonder if the Horsemen have an outside point person. If so, finding him (or her) would be the key to ending the magicians' crime spree. But who could it be? Or could it really be…magic? (From Summit’s official synopsis)

Now You See Me
When I saw the trailers for Louis Leterrier’s Now You See Me, I was initially surprised that Hollywood had made a star-studded movie about real world magicians. Then I did a couple minutes of research. It turns out that, in recent years, movies about magicians, illusionists, and/or mentalists are more common than I thought. 2006 famously saw dueling magician melodramas in Neil Burger’s The Illusionist and Christopher Nolan’s [/I]The Prestige[/I], though people tend to forget that Prestige actors Scarlett Johansson and Hugh Jackman also starred in Woody Allen’s Scoop the same year. In 2008, Sean McGinly made a comedy about a failed mentalist called The Great Buck Howard, the same year CBS’ weekly series The Mentalist premiered. Then, foreign films starting getting in on the act (no pun intended). In 2010, French animation director Sylvain Chomet released L'Illusionniste, based on an unproduced Jacques Tati script, and in 2011 Chinese director Derek Yee made The Great Magician, starring Tony Leung and Lau Ching-Wan. In fact, Now You See Me wasn’t even the only movie about magicians released in 2013 – it competed with Don Scardino’s slapstick comedy, The Incredible Burt Wonderstone. Now You See Me is still conceptually unique, because it combines an Ocean’s 11-type ensemble heist flick and a relatively conventional romantic comedy, though, fans of Batman: The Animated Series may recall an episode where Bruce Wayne’s former fling, an illusionist named Zatanna, is framed for a bank robbery.

Leterrier is a theoretically talented individual who makes increasingly bland and increasingly effects-heavy action movies. His earlier, less digitally-enhanced work, specifically Danny the Dog (aka: Unleashed), was entertaining, though, so the promise of him working in a more ‘limited’ capacity was promising. Without being tied to digital monsters, the director is free to unveil a torrent of slick imagery that is very easy on the eyes. He’s constantly swishing and sliding his camera around the action and over-edits even the simplest dialogue sequences, but somehow manages to hold the whole thing together. The sheer quantity of unnecessary filmic design really should be overwhelming, but it works. Surprisingly, the only time Leterrier’s direction really falls apart is during the film’s occasional chase and fight sequences – something one would expect the director of the first two Transporter films and Danny the Dog would have in the bag (the entirely unnecessary car chase is pretty good, though). The real problem making a movie about illusions, rather than putting on a show in person, is that the audience is savvy enough to know that special effects are being used to create those illusions. There’s really no mystery in the magicians’ game, which puts a lot of pressure on the screenplay when it comes time to reveal the trick. Unfortunately, the reveal at the end of Now You See Me is pretty damn stupid and there’s almost nothing Leterrier could have done with his surplus of style to fix it.

Now You See Me
Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci – two of the leading crusaders against coherent screenwriting working in Hollywood today – have their names on the Now You See Me marquee, but, according to the credits, they were not involved in writing the screenplay. That responsibility fell upon Boaz Yakin and Edwar Riccourt ( Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure co-writer and Levity director Ed Solomon apparently did a bit of script doctoring as well). Riccourt, who apparently wrote the first version of the spec script himself, doesn’t have any other credits to judge, but Yakin has been making the rounds as a writer and as a director for more than 20 years now. Most recently he wrote & directed Safe, but he’s better known for Remember the Titans. He’s also the guy behind the scripts for garbage family comedies ( Uptown Girls), generic action spectacles ( The Rookie), and even a droningly dull videogame adaptation ( Prince of Persia: Sands of Time). Now You See Me features a very busy, character-heavy narrative, which Leterrier and his editors unravel very quickly, even in this overlong, extended edition (which mostly just adds more character beats). There isn’t enough time to notice how simple the seemingly twist-heavy plot actually is, which makes the first viewing a brisk, mostly entertaining experience. Afterthought and second viewings don’t do the film any favours, but the only times that the initial watch really fell apart for me was when we are forced to spend too much time with the magicians doing non-magician things. It really isn’t their movie – it’s the FBI and Interpol agents’ film and the story works best when they’re trying to solve the case. The less Ocean’s 11 and ‘secret society’ stuff, the better.

Of course, Laurent and Ruffalo’s performances really help ensure the law enforcement side of the story is likeable (they don’t have a lot of chemistry, but they’re charming people), while the magician characters are so grotesquely smug that it’s nearly impossible to care about their Robin Hood-inspired crusade. I can’t imagine this problem will get any better with the proposed sequel. The characters are written this way, though, which means my annoyance is actually proof of the strength of the performances. Leterrier has worked with some great casts, including Edward Norton, Ralph Fiennes, and Liam Neeson, but he tends to get better results out of character actor types, like Tim Blake Nelson, Tim Roth, and Bob Hoskins. Now You See Me features a particularly impressive cast, including Oscar nominees (Ruffalo and Jesse Eisenberg), Oscar winners (Morgan Freeman and Michael Caine), should’ve-been nominee (Mélanie Laurent for Inglourious Basterds), and, of course, character actors (Woody Harrelson and Michael Kelly). Everyone appears to be having fun, which might explain how the producers were able to assemble such a strong cast in the first place. With the exception of the one major chase scene, most of the film is built around a series of actor interactions and big, ‘important’ speeches – the kind of stuff actors adore.

Now You See Me

Video


Now You See Me was shot in 35mm and is presented here in 2.40:1, 1080p HD video. As I mentioned in the ‘feature’ section of the review, Leterrier and dual cinematographers Mitchell Amundsen and Larry Fong shoot the film to appear very stylized. The 35mm look has been altered via digital gradation, so the image is smooth and mostly grain-free (there are some ghosting effects on the camera movements during darker scenes that remind me of similar problems that I have seen on film’s shot with Panavision Genesis HD cameras). Details are reasonably crisp, though the film’s look is not super sharp. Now You See Me is also a very high contrast film, including deep, flat blacks and blooming, soft light whites (the whites that aren’t actually light blues…), neither of which are particularly conducive to a sharp experience. Still, the image is plenty clear without any notable compression noise. The palette is a variation on the old orange & teal standby with a richer blue standing in for the teal and more of a yellow standing in for the orange. The look isn’t nearly as extreme as many other recent movies with digital colour timing, but it’s certainly an unnatural look. These colours are very strong and well-separated, even along the fuzzier, out-of-focus background edges.

Now You See Me

Audio


This Blu-ray comes fitted with a suitably subtle DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 soundtrack. Leterrier and his sound designers take pains to find as much aural immersion and directional movement as they can from what is a generally dialogue-driven film. This isn’t a particularly aggressive mix, but it is a very warm, naturalistic, and busy one. The immersive effects are at their most lively during the illusion sequences. These involve a lot of dynamic, swishy, abstract ‘magic’ noise, along with audience walla and echo on the character dialogue. There’s also a punchy, heavily directionally-enhanced foot chase through Mardi Gras, followed by a knock-down, drag-out fight (that includes magic tricks) and a nice, loud car chase across the streets of New York. The film’s score is provided by workhorse composer Brian Tyler, who takes a horn and drum heavy, generically ‘wondrous’ approach to the symphonic and electronic-infused music. The score fills the void created by the mix’s natural slant and gives the stereo and surround speakers plenty to do. The music sits quietly beneath the dialogue during the quieter moments and bursts out into a nice set of stereo walls during the actiony moments.

Now You See Me

Extras


The extras begin with a commentary track on the theatrical cut with Leterrier and producer Bobby Cohen. The commentators share the load as far as unloading factoids and rattle off quite a bit of production and technical information without too much blank space. The track’s tone is pretty mechanical, which I suppose is valuable in terms of educational value, but isn’t particularly entertaining. Personally, I would’ve preferred fewer stories about overcoming technical difficulties and behind-the-scenes logistical nightmares, and more discussion about constructing the film’s story. I suppose the focus of the commentary may be indicative of the problems in making such a slick yet ultimately empty motion picture. At one point, Leterrier begins to say something about the script (he liked making a movie without any real ‘bad guys’) and is quickly interrupted by Cohen as he makes a point to call Morgan Freeman a great actor. As if we’d never seen Morgan Freeman in a movie before. Again, it’s an informative track on the mechanics of putting together a Hollywood production, but it is not very interesting or entertaining on any sort of critical level.

Up next is Now You See Me Revealed (15:40, HD), a fluffy, but relatively informative behind-the-scenes featurette featuring interviews with producers Cohen, Orci & Kurtzman, writer Riccourt, magic consultant David Kwong, and cast members Morgan Freeman, Mark Ruffalo, Isla Fisher, Dave Franco, Jesse Eisenberg, Melanie Laurent, Woody Harrelson, and Michael Caine. A Brief History of Magic (11:50, HD), an EPK-like look at the magic that inspired the film, hosted by David Kwong. The extras also include a collection of 13 deleted/extended/alternate scenes (some open-matte with incomplete effects and colour grading, 32:00, HD), a teaser, a trailer, and trailers for other Lionsgate releases.

Now You See Me

Overall


I enjoyed Now You See Me a lot more than I expected to. It’s breezy, entertaining, and decently directed by a filmmaker that needed to prove he could work outside of effects-heavy, empty spectacle. It also features a cast that is clearly having a good time with the material (even to the point of elevating some bad dialogue). But, it’s still very shallow, way too long (especially the extended cut included on this Blu-ray), and has a twist ending that is mostly unsupported by the rest of the film. Assuming you’re okay with being frustrated for the sake of entertainment, however, I’ll hesitantly recommend this one. Those folks that have already decided that they’re willing to go along with the film’s shortcomings can look forward to a colourful, slick 1080p transfer and a strong, mostly subtle DTS-HD MA soundtrack. The extras include a so-so commentary track and a couple of fluffy featurettes.

* Note: The images on this page are not representative of the Blu-ray image quality.


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