Thankfully, at no point in the film did it try to make me believe that magic is real. The big tricks in the film are all explained in the end. Sure, there were a few that were essentially impossible–Isla Fisher floating inside a bubble, that ridiculous card trick at the very beginning, the bit with the key in the can–but they were window dressing, not really part of the story.
What was extremely awkward about the film–but seemed to amp up the mystery–was that the ones you are led to believe are the main characters (Jesse Eisenberg, Isla Fisher, Woody Harrelson and Dave Franco) aren’t really. You meet them in an extended pre-credit sequence, but then, after a flashy Vegas performance in which The Four Horsemen (sorry about that Isla) rob a bank in front of a crowd of eleventy thousand people, the film belongs to Mark Ruffalo as an FBI agent. They cut over to the Horsemen occasionally, but they remain interesting bit players. I suspect that’s why some of the reviews were poor. But when they are on screen, they’re pretty awesome, which is why it made so much money.
But the mystery was so complete that I swear, I didn’t know who was on the side of the angels until exactly when the filmmakers wanted me to. Particularly brilliant were the scenes where Morgan Freeman (playing a magician debunker) faced off with Michael Caine (playing the Horsemen’s financial backer). I couldn’t tell who was scamming who, or if either of them were really the prime mover behind the formation of the Four Horsemen, or what. It’s kind of stunning that there weren’t really any tells for the audience. (At least that I could find.) So this is easily my fourth favorite film with Caine and Freeman in it.
The central mystery of the film, though, is “Who is the hooded figure?” We know the Four Horsemen were recruited to do these spectacular robberies, but by who? If you punk out and just have some actor show up in the final three minutes of the film, the audience would boo loudly. But who could it fricking be? I did not see the answer coming, and man I looked. This is one of those films I want to watch a second time just to see if there are any loose threads, any place that the character in question did something that did not make sense.
Now, I’m looking forward to the sequel. And Elias Koteas better be in it, is all I’m saying.