Magic. I do love a film about magic. But do you know what I love even more? Magic realism.
I want to believe! I don’t want to sit in the movies and think that the CGI has gone so ridiculously over the top that I’m no longer concentrating, merely shielding my eyes.
And I don’t just mean CGI. I have developed a strange affliction. If I come across a car or plane chase I stop watching (especially if it goes on too long – mentioning no names *cough* Roland Emmerich although he’s really not all bad) and instead start thinking logistics.
What happens to the detritus after that terrible fight between a 50 foot monster and one dirty-vested man with a machine gun? Because I do like to WORRY.
It started when I watched Speed. I should have been thinking how cool it was for Keanu Reeves to drive a tube out of the subway to save Sandra Bullock etc, but as I left the cinema I was wracked with thoughts of “Did anyone die on the surface? Who is going to clean up all that mess? And who is going to pay for it?!”
Cinema (at least, of the big box office kind) has progressed to a near-perfect blending of modern technology (remember when Minority Report felt so futuristic? Now touch-screen tech is passé), coping strategy during alien invasion and massive fire-power. We’ve seen so many IMAX/3D movies that we’ve stopped questioning the level of destruction involved and merely accepted it all as ok – it’s just make-believe.
Once in a while, a film comes along that refuses to simply throw money at the problems of making the unreal believable – and instead thinks things through. Examples include Monsters a beautiful example of a realistic alien invasion, and the tear-jerking District 9 – a robot movie so clever that we forget that it’s really a metaphor for apartheid.
But I recognise that both of those movies aren’t going to garner wider appeal, due to lack of advertising, big names, and in parts the usage of *shock* subtitling. So it gives me great joy to find a movie that was willing to throw some money around without sacrificing on realism. Although I hasten to add that there are no aliens here (I think), it’s all old-fashioned sleight-of-hand. Enter the producers of Now You See Me. Big budget, little fanfare and a seamless blend of well-known names (Morgan Freeman, Michael Caine, Woody Harrelson) with indie screensters (Mark Ruffalo, Jesse Eisenberg), excellent international ladies (Isla Fisher, Melanie Laurent) and a decent heavy-browed newbie (Dave Franco) – in a magical mix.
IMDB tells me that Carmen Cuba put that crew together, hats off to the lady (and my current hero as I discover that she also cast Magic Mike and Haywire).
To tell too much of the plot would lead to the jig being up – and the entire point of Now You See Me is that we, as viewer, are taken along for the ride with Ruffalo. He’s a cop tasked with trying to work out how four disparate magicians (Harrelson, Eisenberg, Fisher and Franco) may be connected to a spate of worldwide bank robberies.
The film requires some concentration as the plot moves very fast, and I would have liked a little more exposition on character relationships, but everyone is so good on screen – I’ll overlook that. I’m so proud that Laurent is getting more exposure to international audiences, she was fantastic in Beginners, and Eisenberg played to type, albeit one with better hair and more likeability. But really I most enjoyed watching Harrelson, Ruffalo and Freeman.
Woody Harrelson is a new man these days – every role he plays seems to give him so much joy- whether it’s a gay sports writer in Friends with Benefits, the hard-drinking seen-it-all Haymitch in The Hunger Games, or a sweet-talking bounty hunter in No Country For Old Men, it is a pleasure to see him just play. Fisher is also always good, but she’s somewhat window-dressing at times…which leads me to think that a sequel is inevitable, and something I dearly want.
So back to the realism. Just watch the way the magic happens – the vast majority of both the conjuring tricks on screen and the visual trickery of directors and cinematographers are intelligently pared down. It’s magic, I know how its done and yet I still believe. Director Louis Leterrier is building up a nice bundle of work at only 40 years old. He normally goes bigger than this (Clash of the Titans) but made his name making The Transporter so he knows how to work a novel plot.
In Now You See Me LeTerrier is utterly confident. He lifts the audience to meet his tricks, tumbles and pacey turns, but he never sacrifices on believability. And finish this all with an urgent, compelling soundtrack from Brian Tyler and you’ve created more than an illusion of something special.
The real magic here is that it’s taken this long for a well-cast intelligent action movie with that lovely feel of cat-and-mouse to reach our screens. So now for my final trick -I’ll use my own mentalist powers: if my opinion and the packed cinema are anything to go by, Now You See Me 2 will feature in all our futures.