This film is magically cinematic.

Magic in cinema has lost a lot of its, well, magical qualities due to the fact that special effects and visual wizardry can be pulled off by even someone so much as a common man. Considering film was founded on the principles of perception, illusion, and amateur craft, it’s a wonder why it’s so rare we get a modern picture exploring mentalism in a greater sense. Finally, there’s Louis Leterrier’s Now You See Me, a film centered around magicians and magic that examines the world in such a style that it should be taken in carefully and with a potent sense of admiration. It’s easily one of the more surprising pictures of the year, combining effective mystery with plot-twists to make for a ravishing experience.

The plot: four crafty magicians, Daniel Atlas (Jesse Eisenberg), Henley Reeves (Isla Fisher), Jack Wilder (Dave Franco) and Merritt Osbourne (Woody Harrelson), are united by an odd-force and a year later are seen as the “Four Horsemen” by a sold-out Vegas crowd. For their final act, they decide to summon an assuming audience member to state the name of his bank so that he can be teleported through time to rob it accordingly. The bank is in France and in mere seconds is the man transported, given instructions about what to do when there, and finally, the money begins to rain from the ceiling of the arena. Of course this summons national attention and FBI agent Dylan Rhodes (Mark Ruffalo) is soon on the case trying to infiltrate the Horseman and discover what the underlying secret is to their tricks.

Leterrier’s directorial game has always been in the field of slick action productions, such as the first two “Transporter” films and the recent remake of Clash of the Titans, which he later apologized for. His talent for directing a picture that relies heavily on visual trickery and giving the audience the idea they are “getting it” when they aren’t even close is meticulous and surprisingly precise. An interesting footnote is “Now You See Me” was shot with an anamorphic lens on film in order to make the effects appear not too hokey but not too realistic as if they were showing them done with certainty and complete accuracy.

The trio of writers — Ed Solomon, Boaz Yakin (Remember the Titans), and Edward Ricourt — however, encounter one issue and that is the issue of greater emphasis on plot and twists as opposed to character and development. The film features such an ensemble cast that does wonders making the material accessible, interesting, and immersing in the first two acts that, by the third, the events and twists have almost overwhelmed the picture to the point of the actors having to run to catch up with the pace of the film. This isn’t a huge issue, but it isn’t until the final twist is explained – that does feel a little rushed and sketchy – that you begin to realize you really know nothing about these magicians besides they each house enough cockiness to make up for two stubborn hockey teams that are entering Game 7 in the playoffs.

Nonetheless, Now You See Me is a good film, but due to the cinematic mastery of special effects the power of magic and perception inevitably feels tainted. I’m reminded of how cinematic shorts got by in the late 1880’s when all auteurs had were cameras and the power of illusion; not slickness, shock, and trickery all created by a hefty budget. How would pioneer filmmaker Georges Méliès view Now You See Me? He’d probably dismiss it as blasphemy before getting back to work.

Grade: B

by Steve Pulaski