Sometimes you wish a movie tried to do less. A little less glossy, a little less CGI, a little less canned dialogue, a few less characters.
Trade the list above out for a bit more character development, a bit more world building, and a bit slower pacing and you can have a great heist genre film. Instead we have a shiny rollercoaster, that while fun to watch, leaves you feeling much like you just, well, rode a rollercoaster: fun and twisty but you wouldn’t think much about it after you’re off the ride.
Specifically when it comes to twisty, “bet you didn’t see this coming”movies like this one, often times the reveal calls into question the motivation of characters up until that point. That’s the case here. If Mark Ruffalo is in fact the magician, why does he react so strongly to the tip that his partner might be a plant? He’s playing the part? I don’t really buy it. In this way I think the writers manipulate the audience through character to serve the plot, rather than using the plot to reveal the character. It’s a sort of dishonest storytelling in a way.
The camera movement borders on maniacal - some of the sequences when they’re performing on stage feel like they were captured by strapping a go-pro to a drone and letting a professional drone racer whip around the auditorium. It was a lot. I think locking off shots on a tripod - even if just a few, can build tension and allow the audience to focus on the situation rather than the setting. Camera movement connotes action and undermines empathy (perhaps because as humans we see things from a generally “static” view? this is a working thesis :)).
The premise is great - four magicians come together to rob banks and give the score to the poor. Just wish it was dealt with a little more honesty. The ‘magic’ performed by the four horseman is explained once, which helps with the sense of realism, but a lot of their smaller tricks rely on CGI and don’t have the feeling that they’re possible. Accordingly, the universe that they build feels a little fantastical and, once again, undercuts the reality and empathy.
We don’t know anything about the characters really, other than they’re magicians (cool!), but without some flaws, hopes, dreams, or backstory, we’re just watching them toss around zingers without caring if they succeed or fail. The four leads are likable because they’re charismatic actors, but not for any tangible story reasons.
In a lot of ways the film reminds me of Ocean’s Eleven (vegas-centric ensemble heist), but lacks the whimsy or likability. Here the plot is too twisty and the audience’s perspective and allegiance too divided to be fully effective. Are we on the side of the four horseman or the detective? Both, is the answer, so we don’t root for either side very strongly - if they succeed great, if the detective succeeds, ok. Whenever there’s a fork in the road we’re apathetic as to the direction we take.
Fun, twisty ride. A crunchy funnel-cake of a movie - an entertaining activity but not very nourishing.