While most movies require viewers to agree to be fooled, few are as up front about it as Now You See Me. This is a cleverly constructed movie, which promises in the beginning to lie to us, proceeds to lie to us rather extravagantly, and does it in such an entertaining way that we like being lied to.
There are three groups of characters in the film. The Four Horsemen (Jesse Eisenberg, Woody Harrelson, Isla Fisher, Dave Franco) are the magicians/con men whose actions drive the plot. Mark Ruffalo and Mélanie Laurent play the agents of law attempting to stop them. Morgan Freeman is an ex-magician who shows how tricks are done - sort of a cross between Penn and Teller's Fool Us and 60 Minutes.
The interactions between all of these characters are complex, but easy to follow. The acting varies from competent to quite good, with Eisenberg and Harrelson delivering the best performances. A caveat, however - I suspect that there are a number of people who will be irritated by Eisenberg's character's snobby arrogance, and the similarity to the role he played in The Social Network.
The cinematography was excellent in some parts of the film and terrible in others. The stage sets feature long, complicated shots with a moving camera that are very well executed. I'm a sucker for long takes. The chase sequences, however, are done in shaky-cam. Shaky-cam sucks.
The best feature of the movie is the plot. For the plot to work, there must first be a decent script, then a director who knows what to do with it, and an editor who can make it all come together. The screenwriters for this film include a guy whose credits include Bill and Ted and Men In Black, and another who wrote Dirty Dancing: Havana Nights and Prince of Persia. I'd be interested to see the screenplay for this movie, to see how much it resembles the final product, to understand who deserves credit for the whole thing working. And it does work. It's twisty enough to keep the audience guessing while still being easily understandable. It's complex without being confusing. It hides crucial information from the audience in a way that is intriguing rather than frustrating.
It's hard to say much more without spoilers. This is a movie that is best experienced with no more knowledge than what is in the trailer. Even knowing everything, though, this is a good movie. In fact, now that I know how the tricks are done, I would like to see it again.
It gets the top spot on my list for being smart, clever, and fun.
1. Now You See Me
2. Star Trek: Into Darkness
4. Iron Man 3
5. Jack the Giant Slayer
6. Beautiful Creatures
7. Oz the Great and Powerful
8. G.I. Joe: Retaliation
9. Hansel and Gretel, Witch Hunters
10. The Great Gatsby