In 10 Words or Less
A magical heist comes up a bit short of greatness
Loves: Magic, heist movies, team-ups
Likes: The main cast, mysteries
Dislikes: Plot holes
Hates: Weak endings
Magic is awesome. For as odd and geeky as it can be, and when you take a look at Doug Henning, those are both fitting descriptors, at its core, magic is pretty great. Being able to make people believe in the bending of reality is an amazing talent, and being able to give yourself over to the idea that magic could exist is a great way to make life amazing. Great magic is unlike pretty much any other performing art, because instead of showing something to the audience, you're hiding something, and that fact makes what you show even more interesting. Therefore, it makes logical sense that if you attach magic to anything else, it is very likely that it will make those things even greater.
So, if you bring together actors like Jesse Eisenberg, Woody Harrelson, Mark Ruffalo, Michael Caine and Morgan Freeman in a team-up heist film focused on magicians, audiences would have to watch the film with their mouths open in order to not have their heads' explode from the awesomeness. And that's sort of what happens for most of Now You See Me, which has a lot of fun with the idea of a team of magicians using their abilities to commit a string of crimes that benefit others. With Eisenberg as Daniel, the close-up expert, Harrelson as Merritt the mentalist, Isla Fisher playing Henley the escape artist and Dave Franco as street-magician Jack, the crew, known as "The Four Horsemen," is great to watch interact and perform their magic, funded by multi-millionaire Arthur Tressler (Caine.) Their high-stakes exploits draw the attention of Dylan (Ruffalo) and Alma (Melanie Laurent), an odd-couple team of investigators, and Thaddeus Bradley (Freeman) a mythbusting former magician.
As Dylan and Bradley both strive to get to the bottom of the Horsemen's Robin Hood-like tricks, it becomes clear that there's another force behind the team of illusionists, someone the group doesn't even know, Like with any heist film, as the authorities get closer and the heists get bigger, the fun increases, and that's just the case here, with the core four all doing a fine job with their roles, including Franco, who has no problem keeping up with his high-powered castmates, especially the traditionally wonderful Harrelson. The only person who doesn't really impress is Laurent, who has the thankless job of playing Mulder to Ruffalo's Scully as a willing believer in magic. In fact, the entire storyline between Dylan and Alma is pretty much superfluous to the overall film, and seems added only to add a Hollywood romance to the package. Removing this character and her connection to Dylan would have streamlined the plot and made for a shorter and improved film.
In the hands of director Louis Leterrier and his master team of DPs, Larry Fong and Mitchel Amundsen, the movie looks incredible, replicating much of the energy and style of the Ocean's 11 heist franchise, while managing to somehow prevent stage magic from looking as Vegas as it normally does. Leterrier is obviously skilled at action filmmaking, and the scenes that lean on that talent are quite memorable, including a New York City car chase and what has to be the first and best street-magician fight in film history, but an ever-moving camera lends pretty much every moment excitement, be it the slickly-written interrogations early in the movie or a simple mentalist act. Like the magicians in the movie, the filmmakers know where to direct your attention, and the results are a great deal of fun to behold. At least until the end.
I've seen the end of this movie referred to as a twist ending, usually in a negative way related to M. Night Shyalamalan, the patron saint of twist endings. The thing is, this is a mystery story, and you're not supposed to know whodunnit, so if it's not a"twist" ending, then what was the point? The real problem is, it's hard to care about a character when your true understanding of them is only a few minutes long when you find out they were responsible. If the impact of the entire film is tied to whether you care about a character's motivations, you better make sure the audience has bought in. That just didn't happen here. That the movie then takes a pretty odd leap in an awkward direction doesn't help save it from spinning off its axis.
The ending of Now You See Me may be a disappointment, but this set offered a chance to salvage that problem in the form of an extended version of the film, which runs 10 minutes longer. However this is just a longer version of the film, not really an altered version, putting in some additional lines and takes in a few spots, including an amusing confrontation between Bradley and the Four Horsemen, as well as an additional scene at the end. Nothing about it is really worth the effort of watching again to spot the differences however.
This film arrives in a two-disc set. one Blu-Ray disc and one DVD, in a standard-width BR keepcase, which is inside a attractive embossed, foil-enhanced slipcover. The disc features a rather stylish animated menu, offering the option to watch the film, select chapters, adjust languages and check out the extras. Audio options include an English DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 track, an English Dolby Digital 2.0 track optimized for late-night viewing (so dialogue, music and douns effects are balanced), a Dolby Digital 2.0 descriptive track and a Dolby Digital 5.1 track, while English SDH, English and Spanish subtitles are available.
The 2.40:1, 1080p, AVC-encoded transfer is quite simply gorgeous. Clarity is top-notch throughout, throwing up tons of excellent detail, while color is vibrant and appropriate across the board and black levels are uniformly solid. The film has a beautiful level of grain to it, resulting is an appropriately cinematic look, though the CG work can look a bit obvious in places (and surprisingly well-integrated elsewhere.) Even when everything is going insane visually (like the hyperkinetic light show during Act III) the transfer keeps things clear and free of any notable issues. The ridiculous lens flares are a problem with having two JJ Abrams collaborators behind the scenes, not any kind of quality concern.
The DTS-HD Master 7.1 track is as impactful as the film's visuals, offering blasts from the epic musical score by the criminally-underrated Brian Tyler, enveloping atmospherics and impressively-placed dialogue, in a dynamic mix that puts you in the middle of the action, especially during the film's big action set-pieces. The tracks handles everything big and small with grace, creating a wonderful experience overall, free of any distortion or issues.
We start with an audio commentary on the theatrical version of the film by Leterrier and producer Bobby Cohen, and the track is impressively balanced, as the two men offer plenty of detail about the film, from production stories and technical notes to editing choices that were made along the way and changes to the script on the way to the screen. There's basically no dead air as both participants carry their weight and speak in an engaging manner. It's a bit disappointing though that there's no discussion of the film's alternate ending. Speaking of which...
The next big extra is a nearly 32-minute pile of deleted scenes (16 in all), none of which were included in the extended version of the film. There's a bunch of interesting moments here, including a slightly different open and some moments with characters that didn't make it into the final film. The scenes that are definitely worth a look are some alternate final scenes that would have been far better than what was used as the actual ending of the movie, potentially giving the audience more satisfaction about the ending. Several of the scenes are intrinsically tied to the plot's resolution, so to describe them would be tantamount to a spoiler.
A pair of featurettes are also included, starting with "Now You See Me Revealed" (15:38), an overview of the film told rapid-fire via interviews with cast and crew (though Laterrier is M.I.A.) It's a tad surface, hitting on basically everything, including the portrayal of magic in the film and having Caine and Freeman together, and as a result, it's not especially informative. "A Brief History of Magic" (11:52), exclusive to Blu-ray and hosted by David Kwong, one of the film's magic consultants, offers a bit more of a lesson by covering the art's history and biggest names, structured to match the specializations of the film's four leads. "Brief" is no understatement, as many of the modern masters are ignored, in favor of magic's forefathers.
Wrapping things up are the film's teaser and theatrical trailers, along with several other Lionsgate promos, a DVD copy of the film and a code for a digital copy and Ultraviolet stream and download.
The Bottom Line
For the most part, Now You See Me is a slick, fun new take on the heist genre, with a technically impressive presentation and an all-star cast, but it doesn't really arrive at an ending the film deserves, and when you've engaged your audience in a mystery, delivering a weak payoff may be the worst thing a movie can do. The Blu-ray is well-crafted through and provides some quality extras that will take some of the sting of disappointment away.
Francis Rizzo III is a native Long Islander, where he works in academia. In his spare time, he enjoys watching hockey, writing and spending time with his wife, daughter and puppy.Check out 1106 - A Moment in Fictional Time or his convention blog called Conning Fellow
*The Reviewer's Bias section is an attempt to help readers use the review to its best effect. By knowing where the reviewer's biases lie on the film's subject matter, one can read the review with the right mindset.