First Hit: I like magic and therefore I was interested and entertained during this film.
However from a plot point of view it was confusing and didn’t necessarily hold together. In the opening scenes we see four magicians performing their particular types of magic. J. Daniel Atlas (Jesse Eisenberg) doing street magic that is grand in its own right.
Merritt McKinney (Woody Harrelson) does mindreading and hypnosis in small venues to make a living after his bother stole all his money. Henley Reeves (Isla Fisher) use to be Atlas’ assistant but does her own dramatic magic in small showrooms. Lastly there is Jack Wilder (Dave Franco) who is mostly a con-artist with deft hands and the ability to be clever.
They are corralled together by an unknown guide and a year later is performing major stage magic in front of thousands of people in Las Vegas. They identify Author Tressler (Michael Caine) as their financial benefactor to the audience.
Also the audience is introduced to Thaddeus Bradley (Morgan Freeman) in this “First Act” show as someone who makes a living debunking Magic by sharing magician's tricks on his website. In the first act the 4 Horsemen, as they’re called, are to have someone from the audience come up to the stage and rob a bank in France and give the proceeds to the audience.
This is the films setup because the magicians are brought into the FBI for questioning and here they meet Dylan Rhodes (Mark Ruffalo) who is heading the US investigation of the robbery while his Interpol counterpart is Alma Dray (Melanie Laurant). As each of the three 4 Horsemen acts unfold, the story gets more convoluted. This is the problem with this film, it just doesn’t provide enough sustenance and bread crumbs to make it work.
Eisenberg is intense as usual and although he’s good for the part, he’s become more of a one trick pony. Harrelson, as he’s done in the last few years, takes each of his characters and makes them interesting and compelling. Fisher is good enough but I would have seen more grit (street smarts) from her to beef up her part. Franco is OK as the most minor of the four characters but reappears at the end as a critical component. Caine is good as the hard, steely eyed, guy who gets taken for a ride. Freeman is strong as the guy who gets his in the end. Ruffalo is OK, however didn’t seem very believable as a FBI investigator. Laurant is OK but I’m not quite sure this character was needed. Ed Solomon and Boaz Yakin wrote the convoluted story with big ideas. Louis Leterrier directed the film, and it seems, with a certain respect for magic.
Overall: I found the film entertaining and that could be that is because I like the illusion of magic.