The PlotNow You See Me starts with four talented street magicians getting invited by an unknown benefactor to perform in Vegas as “The Four Horsemen.” These are: the arrogant illusionist Danny Atlas (Jesse Eisenberg), hypnotist Merrit McKinney (Woody Harrelson), escape artist Henley Reeves (Ilsa Fisher), and pickpocket Jack Wilder (Dave Franco).
Ultimately, the film finishes with a protracted chase scene in which the magicians rob a defense contractor while trying to evade Freeman, the FBI and the local police. The benefactor then reveals himself and his motives, and you won’t guess who it is because it makes no sense.
Smoke and Mirrors and MisdirectionThis film functions by misdirection. On the surface, this film involves an ultra-clever heist perpetrated by a group of talented young stage magicians. They do this heist right before the eyes of the frustrated FBI and a talented debunker, and as they do, they keep the audience guessing what will happen next and what just happened. And if you shut off your brain, this heist will rival any other heist film for complexity, originality, and surprise.
But there’s a problem: the heist isn’t real. And I don't mean, this probably wouldn't work in real life. What I mean is that the film doesn't even pretend to show you a possible heist, it just shows you hints of heists and then tries to trick you into thinking you saw more.
To give you some examples, it doesn’t take long to realize that they would need to know too much information to pull off these tricks. How do they find everyone who got screwed by the insurance company and invite them to attend the second show? How do they learn the account numbers and passwords to each of those people's saving accounts? The film never tells you. Somehow they also get them all to use the same banking software on their phones, software that doesn’t exist and which impossibly gives you a real-time ticker on the amount of money in your account as if deposits were added in penny by penny. Then they need to find a way to get Caine’s bank to conduct a thousand wire transfers in real time, at their command to work with the stage show, late at night. Again, they never make any attempt to explain how this was done.
Even when they explain things, they don't explain them. Consider the bank robbery in Paris. It seems impossible. Then Freeman comes along and explains that they did it the day before, and they did it by replacing the real money with fake money so no one would notice. The film even shows you a flashback of these characters hovering around the bank in armored car uniforms. Ruffalo then asks how they made the fake money vanish. To this, Freeman responds “flash paper” and he causes some to burn up in his hand. Oh, now it all makes sense. Actually, it doesn’t. At no point is an explanation offered for where the fake money actually came from, how they got it into the bank, how they removed the good money and replaced it with the bad, how they got the good money to Vegas overnight, how they set off the flash paper, why no one noticed the residue, or any other part of how the heist would need to work. All you get is an assurance that it happened followed by the debunker declaring their actions explained and brilliant.
In many ways, that makes this film very much like Ocean’s Thirteen, which similarly abandoned believability for style. In Ocean’s Thirteen, that worked because they presented a world you wanted to embrace and characters with relationships you wanted to be part of. Here, the true fatal flaw is the casting.
All in all, this is an interesting but very shallow film. It would have served the film better to have actually presented a genuine heist scenario or more likable actors. Still, it’s probably worth seeing, if for nothing else but its potential. Just don't expect to be impressed if you pull back the veneer.