Despite recent articles, I enjoy a good twist. I think it has the ability to take a movie to another level and in some cases, commit that movie to an ever-lasting status (see Fight Club and Sixth Sense). However, twists only work when done right and done sparingly. If every movie had a twist, then the twist in itself would become pointless. The best twists are the ones that you didn’t even realize were in the game plan. In an impossible stroke of luck, I actually watched Fight Club not knowing that there was even a twist in it. And the ending was a sucker punch, making the whole experience a phenomenal, must-see piece of cinema.
Other films have one too many twists. Films like ‘Basic’ and ‘Oblivion’ could be said to have one twist too many to the point, where our belief was stretched too far. By the end of the movie, we were far too exhausted from keeping up with the fast-paced story to fully enjoy the experience. There is also a sense that the writers are showing off. Although I think ‘Trance’ is one of the best films of 2013 so far, there was a sense that Danny Boyle was guilty of showmanship. The truth is twists do not equal brilliance in a script (which, in all honesty, is hypocritical of me, because most of my scripts have a twist), but it is the strength of the story overall. In short, twists are impressive, yes, but they are not a cheat code at having an award-winning script in your hands.
‘Now You See Me’ was flawed from the start, as its premise completely skipped over these two rules of twists. We all knew this movie would have a twist and we knew that this movie would have loads of them. This didn’t necessarily have to be a problem, because the material caused this problem, not the creators. Just like a magic show, we had come to this performance to see a spectacle that would stretch our credulity. However, the only way it would work is if the twists were performed with perfect precision. There could not be a single false beat, if this film was to work.
The reason I am discussing ‘Now You See Me’ is that half of its twists (no, let’s be honest, most of its twists) were spot-on. Taking aboard all of the misdirection and surprises that the movie preached for most of its running time, Louis Leterrier hit us with some fantastic twists. I loved the way the Four Horsemen would give us a magical show and then Morgan Freeman would come in and explain the simple solution behind each trick. It was exactly what I wanted from this film and it was the glue that held it together. But then there were certain twists that just fell so short of their mark, you would think that a different writer devised them.
The twist in particular is a twist of two halves. I liked the fact that the overlord of the plot was the son of the failed magician who locked himself in a safe, trying to outsmart Morgan Freeman (that sentence needs context). I nearly guessed it: I thought it actually was the guy in the safe, who was actually alive all this time and pulling off a master trick to get revenge on Morgan Freeman. I really enjoyed this clever ruse. The clue was buried in an expositional monologue on Morgan Freeman’s part and rarely brought up again. No one was thinking to look for an answer in that direction, which is exactly what a good twist needs. However, while this would have been a good enough finale answer, Leterrier took it a step further and decided that the son would actually be Mark Ruffalo, the cop who was chasing the magicians all this time.
See, this was too much. For one, I hate twists like this. Call it too rigidly-structured, but I like a movie to have at least one character that we can emphasize with. It doesn’t have to be a holier-than-thou character: Leonardo Di Caprio has portrayed several flawed characters that we still root for every step of the way. Throwing a twist that changes everything we knew about the character is too dizzying for the audience to keep up with. We are unsure about the motivations of the character from the get-go, which can never work (unless that is the point, like Shutter Island). The same flaw can be found with Lucky Number Slevin. If we cannot relate to our character as the leading hero of the piece, then we cannot truly find a connection with the film.
Another thing is that ‘Now You See Me’ better be very clever. A twist should add pleasure to a second viewing. Watching ‘Shutter Island’ again is a great experience, as you can pick out all the fore-shadowing Scorsese throws in and be amazed at the beauty of the film. I can guarantee that when critics, or even over-zealous fans, re-watch ‘Now You See Me’ cracks will begin to show. Plot holes will turn up. Character choices won’t make sense. ‘Now You See Me’ took their film one twist too far and for that reason, I can imagine the movie crumbling in on itself.