Now You See Me Gets Tricky in the CGI Era
Something's misguided about a film built around magic in the digital era. When Georges Méliès transferred illusions to cinema his trickery was stunning, but with every DVD-extras documentary about CGI they see, contemporary audiences become increasingly difficult to impress. Such considerations might have benefitted Now You See Me, Louis Leterrier's manic magic-heist film following the bank-robbing travails of a four-magician team (anchored by charming Jesse Eisenberg, whose talents extend beyond portraying the neuroses-riddled). Various magic tricks are demonstrated excitingly, if not convincingly—again, all those CGI wizards—as the group teleports Euros from Paris to Las Vegas, makes safe-filled rooms appear empty, and instantaneously changes bank account balances. The bargain struck with Leterrier is a loan on credit—the viewer will suspend disbelief if its clear the filmmakers will pay them back with a satisfying explanation. Here, problems arise. Whereas the purpose of a magic trick is its own entertainment, a film that raises crucial narrative questions is expected to answer them. When functioning like a magic trick, this breathlessly entertaining picture delights in its showmanship, but the more entertaining the trickery, the tougher the explanation, and when the truth is revealed the answer can't help but fail to satisfy. And like a magic trick, many of its visuals are captivating—but the structure of a magic trick is ill-suited to cinema.
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