Now You See Me

Thursday, July 25th, 2013 11:06 pm
kate_nepveu: sleeping cat carved in brown wood (Default)
[personal profile] kate_nepveu
And now, I continue my pop-culture brain dump with a movie that hardly anyone I know saw (though it did unexpectedly well at the box office) and that isn't in theaters any more, because I believe in putting these things on the record: Now You See Me, the magic-show-as-heist flick with Mark Ruffalo, Michael Caine, and Morgan Freeman.

It opens with four individuals being observed by a mysterious figure in a hoodie (not a mysterious hooded figure; that's Welcome to Night Vale, which is next in my queue, I think). One is Woody Harrelson, using hypnosis to be a blackmailing asshole. One is the guy from The Social Network (Jesse Eisenberg), doing large-scale card tricks and being kind of a dick. One is a woman (Isla Fisher) doing a straight-up escape trick and being fierce. And one is some young guy (Dave Franco) picking pockets. They're all brought together for some mysterious plan . . . and then a year later, are running a magic show in Las Vegas with Michael Caine as their backer. Mark Ruffalo is the FBI agent assigned to investigate the aftermath of the show; Morgan Freeman is a professional debunker of magic tricks.

The thing about caper movies is that they need two things. On the mechanics side, they need both a satisfyingly non-obvious trick and a satisfyingly fair reveal. And on the story side, they need a reasonably just, by the standards of the genre, conclusion.

Now You See Me does well with the first at the beginning, but gets pretty wobbly in this regard thereafter. (I should never think "that's stupid" during an explanation; ideally I should never think it, but at least have it wait until the next day or even just the drive home.) As for the second . . .


As my summary may have suggested, the four-person team is 3/4 unlikeable, and there is essentially no time for character development. Put that together with the opening and I spent a good deal of time waiting for the mysterious backer to drop. Well, at first I thought it was Michael Caine, but then in their second show they rob him (in a way that makes no sense at the time, so much so that I thought it wasn't real for quite a while). But then I was looking.

I entirely missed that it was Mark Ruffalo, and so I naturally must dissect why. The movie played on, first, the ambiguity I would feel in who to root for in a cat-and-mouse game in the caper genre generally, with an added Robin Hood element to further muddy the waters. [*] So that took up a good chunk of my attention to Ruffalo's character: how close is he going to come, and do I want him to catch them? And that was exacerbated by the movie playing on my embarrassment squick to disguise the ways he was slowing the investigation down: I was too busy cringing at him losing his temper or getting shown up by Eisenberg's character (arrogance personified) or forgetting the "tackle" hypnosis instruction, to wonder if he was the backer. So that worked well.

[*] There end up being arguably three plot forces in the movie, Ruffalo's revenge, the Robin Hood thing, and the magicians' desire to prove themselves worthy of membership in the mysterious Eye society, which is too much. Also the hints that magic is "real", too much.

Except the reveal is that he's framing Freeman's character for the foursome's last theft because Freeman did an expose on his dad, who then died in an even-more dramatic escape attempt that was supposed to be his redemption. Or something. And I do not think that revealing magicians' secrets is an imprisonable offense! It looks to me like a lot of displaced anger at his dad for not rolling with the punches, or at an uncaring universe for a chain of bad things, but the movie entirely fails to position it that way. Freeman is the bad guy, Ruffalo is the good guy, the foursome are also good guys for working as a team (even though their personalities have changed not at all), the end. And I don't agree.

ETA: a comment by [personal profile] telophase reminds me that I meant to link to Penn and Teller doing the cups and balls, in which being shown how it's done doesn't detract from the awesomeness but enhances it.

Oh, and the mechanics bits that I still remember as nonsensical, nearly two months later: if someone cleans out your bank account electronically, and says in public that they're stealing from you, I can't imagine that your bank would hold you liable. And the safe being disguised by a giant mirror, like a rabbit in a box, makes no sense at all. What if someone walked just a little further into the room and saw their reflection? If you can get a giant mirror in the room you can also get a false wall. Sheesh.

Because this was back at the start of June, my partial notes on the trailers are all outdated except one, which is:

The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones: there is no justice in the world.
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