I am a huge lover of art house cinema. I try seeking it out whenever possible. Seeing films like Shane Carruth’s Upstream Color or Harmony Korine’s Spring Breakers, especially in the theater, is an unparalleled experience. Having said that, it can be incredibly taxing on the brain. I need the occasional Safe Haven (a terrible film in the best possible way) or Smokin Aces (a fantastically fun action flick,) from time to time. That was what I was hoping I would get out of Fast & Furious Six, but unfortunately I missed it last weekend. As a consolation prize, I wound up seeing Now You See Me with the exact same hopes; it was 114 minutes of great fun.
A team of magicians, played by Jesse Eisenberg (The Squid and the Whale, The Social Network), Woody Harrelson (everything good ever), Dave Franco (James Franco’s younger clone, 21 Jump Street), and Isla Fisher (Rebel Alley in the new episodes of Arrested Development, The Great Gatsby), put together a string of tricks gaining national attention involving bankrupting a millionaire, robbing a bank in Paris from Las Vegas, and doing general tomfoolery. This grabs the attention of an FBI agent (Mark Ruffalo, local dreamboat) and an Interpol agent, portrayed by Mélanie Laurent (Inglourious Basterds, Beginners). A cat-and-mouse game is played, but the magicians constantly have the upper hand. The FBI agent has trouble believing in magic, saying, ‘They’re entertainers!’ when asked if he suspected them of anything. He should have been very worried about them. The cast also includes Michael Caine as the financier behind the magician’s acts, and Morgan Freeman as someone who disproves a magician’s tricks.
Not wanting to give any more information than that, I shall stop discussing the plot there. The acting is pretty strong all the way around. Jesse Eisenberg is constantly good in roles that give him quick, sharp witted, condescending dialogue. Woody Harrelson steals just about every scene he is in with anyone, due to his ‘mind reading.’ Dave Franco has a sort of boyish charm that makes him instantly likeable. Isla Fisher is probably the weakest of the four, but she was not exactly bad either.
Mark Ruffalo’s character was written with a design to frustrate, constantly not believing that there was a bigger picture, and he went for it. This is strange, because it is rare that I find a Mark Ruffalo character to be a douche-nozzle. Mélanie Laurent did a pretty great job, trying to convince him of this, making me wonder once again why she is not in so many more films. She really should be. If I had the opportunity to cast her in a film, I definitely would. Michael Caine and Morgan Freeman do fine with what they are given. Anyone else but them would have gone over the top in their performances, and they could have, but did not.
Louis Leterrier, director of The Transporter and The Incredible Hulk, is not known for his excellence in direction. In fact, he is not known for anything. That may change with this film. The misé en scene is well calculated wherever possible, foreshadowing future scenes subtly. Blue, like many action films, is common in this film’s color palette, but it is done in an interesting way. It comes from the film’s many lens flares, with that bright blue color. It is in most every scene, and it works. The film often forces the audience to look at something else, deceiving them. It is a massive feat due to characters at multiple times in the film essentially saying, “To do that is to not see the entire picture.” What happens? We, the audience, does not see the big picture until it is pointed out for us.
Sure, some parts are predictable, but I can get past that. Sure, a few parts at the end are ambiguous to a fault, but I can also get past that. Sure, this was not nearly as intelligent as other magician thrillers like The Prestige or The Illusionist, but I can get past that because of how damned entertaining it is. By now, you are surely confused. Not by the points I have made, but rather at the caption on the picture. What does it say?
Right you are, you literate reader you! It says: You Lost Cannes.
POW! You, the reader looked too close at my review, not seeing the full picture! I mentioned in the first paragraph that it was ‘114 minutes of great fun.’ The film is 116 minutes long! Is the two missing minutes enough time to change a rating from a solid “You Won Cannes” to a negative rating? It is when the two minutes in question are the two minutes that compose the final scene of the film. The film’s last scene was so cliché, so poorly written I shouted out the following*:
“What the fuck? Did that just fucking happen? How the fuck could a film end like this?!”
It pissed me off, and the more I think about that scene the more angry I get. The writers, Ed Solomon, Boaz Yakin, and Edward Ricourt, are entirely to blame here. How is it possible to write such a solid 114 minutes and then take a shit on two blank pieces of paper and call it an ending? The actors must have been in on its terribleness, so they acted accordingly, I’m assuming. They are not to blame.
Why this pisses me off as much as it does is because during the previous 114 minutes, I was pretty content. I was pleasantly surprised by how much fun I was having with the film. I could deal with the problems it had. What I cannot deal with is a piss poor ending for an otherwise good film.
If a film is a puzzle, the ending to the film is like the corner pieces. They are possibly the most essential pieces, giving the puzzle-solvers a place to start (or, when it comes to film, to end). They are necessary. The ending to Now You See Me is so inept, it’s almost as though those metaphorical pieces are missing. The level of disappointment I had with that ending is intense. It would be like being the father of an incredibly intelligent woman who, after spending $500 thousand on a medical degree, after being offered a job at John Hopkins, declines it and instead decides to go work on an online sex chat. A bad online sex chat, at that.
That may be a little extreme, but that ending just left a bitter taste in my mouth. A bitter enough taste that only after two minutes allowed me to ignore everything that happened before.
*Please note, that there was an eight-year old next to me.