Most people love illusionists and magicians, arguably making something of a comeback in the entertainment mainstream thanks in part to people like UK based Dynamo.
Director Louis Leterrier has crafted a thriller come caper movie that wants to be the “The Prestige” but set in modern times.
We meet the four performers, street card sharp J Daniel Atlas (Jesse Eisenberg), mentalist Merritt McKinney (Woody Harelson), not adverse to uncovering secrets and erasing them for a suitable fee. Jack Wilder (Dave Franco) robbing people blind whilst performing his magic tricks and finally Henley Reeves (Isla Fisher), an escapologist with a penchant for the macabre.
This eclectic band are pulled together as a group following the receipt of the mysterious Taro card requesting them to meet at a certain time and place. Unbeknown to this merry band, they are being played but by whom and why?
We then jump forward in time and the group are performing sell out shows on a huge stage at Las Vegas as the “Four Horseman”. The act is all about illusion and after showing their appreciation to their benefactor Arthur Tressler (Michael Caine), the grand finale showcases a multi million dollar fake bank heist. The group then distribute the “proceeds” to a highly receptive and appreciative audience.
Following the realisation this may not be an illusion but a bank robbery hiding in plain sight, the FBI are called in. Dylan Rhodes (Mark Ruffalo), who looks like he slept in his clothes, gets to meet his classic mismatch partner in the form of Interpol agent Alma Vargas (Melanie Laurent).
The couple then attempt to track and unscramble what is real and what is not. They are aided and not so much abetted, by another shadowy character Thaddeus Bradley (Morgan Freeman). An ex-magician for hire who now earns a crust unmasking magicians tricks by explaining how they are performed, which seems a real killjoy way of earning a living.
The set up is good and the cast list has great depth of experience to call upon. However, despite this fertile ground many opportunities are wasted. Freeman and Caine get very little to do, Ruffalo and Laurent have zero screen chemistry with the former giving every appearance of needing to phone his agent to ask why he is involved at all
The four horseman actors acquit themselves well enough but the whole enterprise is let down by a very weak and implausible story which does not hang together or stand up to scrutiny. A bit like the art of illusion itself, distract the audience with lots of shiny glitter and movie stars and maybe they will not notice the plot makes no sense.
I suspect when all the reveals are complete many will ask, really was that it?
The film did well at the box office so we may see another go round, lets hope the next time they pull the rabbit from the hat, it’s clutching a better script.
Fun on a very superficial level but overall with so much talent available and an exciting premise, this is disappointing and could have been so much more.
As the tag-line says “The closer you think you are, the less you’ll actually see”, which is very apt for the film.