Image copyright © by Marcus Trahan

Now You See Me


I am a big fan of magic, that is to say, illusions. I don’t believe in the hocus-pocus kind, and neither should you. This is one of the better movies about stage magic, and I didn’t believe much of it … which is okay because, beyond the implausibility of pulling off such a wild succession of stunts, the principles behind each one of them are good, and taken as bits and pieces, most of them would have worked.

It starts off with a real head-scratcher. Jesse Eisenberg fans a deck of cards in our faces and asks us to pick a card. They go by VERY quickly, so he says, let’s try it a little slower. I hadn’t been paying much attention to it, but Lee says “Seven of diamonds.” Okay, so I back up the DVD and look at it again, and sure enough, the card I see both times is the seven of diamonds. (The producers have assured us that this trick works in real life, that there was no camera trickery involved. I will believe the producers.) How does it work? I have no idea, but it does.

But then Jesse throws all the cards up in the air and behind him the John Hancock Tower’s lights come on in a pattern of the seven of diamonds. I KNOW how that one worked, because he tells us later: He bribed the electrician with $50. So there’s a nice example of two important things about magic. One is that you keep some tricks to yourself. The other is that many, many tricks involve a stooge, or someone behind the scenes who has been paid off.

All the other principles of magic are wonderfully shown here, too. And it’s a damn good plot. Three brash young street magicians (and Woody Harrelson) are summoned to a mysterious meeting. The next thing we know it’s a year later, they are starring in a HUGE show in Las Vegas, where they say they will rob a bank, live and on stage. If that wasn’t enough, the bank is in Paris. Paris, France. And not only do they pull it off, but they shower the money down on the audience.

They are arrested … but what have they done? The FBI and Interpol can’t figure it out. Are they going to charge them with teleporting money out of a bank eight thousand miles away?

This is all swell, especially when we see how it was done. And again, it’s way beyond implausible … but none of it is IMPOSSIBLE. And what’s even nicer is that all the time they are setting things up for their next big show in New Orleans, and the last in New York, working not just two, but five, six, seven steps ahead of the people who are after them …

I have a few small caveats, such as would several tons of flash paper burn and not leave a trace, not even scorched paint? I doubt it. And, would a magician’s rabbit-vanishing mirror box scale up to the point people could walk into it and not see the trick? I’m dubious. I also don’t believe that hypnosis is as reliable as it seems to be here. But if points like that really bother you, don’t see this movie. The things I like are that it’s all based on the primal principles of illusion, such as preparation, misdirection, cold reading, and manipulation. If you look hard, you can see some of it coming, and I have to brag that I saw some of it. But the final reveal I only partly got, and I had the wrong character pegged as the joker.