Sandwiched between massive blockbusters (like Iron Man 3 and Man of Steel) and high-profile flops (like After Earth and The Lone Ranger), Louis Leterrier’s Now You See Me became the little movie that could over the summer of 2013. On a relatively modest summer budget of $75m, the film grossed $117m (and counting) on the domestic side and will finish its worldwide run with well more than $300m. This makes it the highest-grossing film from Summit/Lionsgate outside of the Twilight and The Hunger Games franchises.
The new Blu-ray includes a commentary with director Leterrier and his producer Bobby Cohen on the theatrical cut of the film. Of course, because they’re revealing the secrets of the feature film magic trick, they discuss all the plot twists in the movie. If you haven’t seen the film yet and don’t want these points spoiled, you might want to rent it first before proceeding.
Fair warning: spoiler alert! And now, on to the commentary.
Now You See Me (2013)
Commentators: Louis Leterrier (director) and Bobby Cohen (producer)
1. The introductions to each of the Four Horsemen were shot with different styles based on their performance style. For example, the establishing shots of Woody Harrelson’s character were shot with long lenses because a mentalist stands back and observes his subjects before interacting with them.
2. The original plan was to have real piranha in the introduction of Isla Fisher’s character. However, when the piranha arrived on set, they were unimpressively small, which caused them to opt for larger CGI piranhas instead.
3. The actors playing the Four Horsemen liked to improvise a lot of their dialogue, so Leterrier instructed his director of photography to light their scenes from 360 degrees in case he wanted to use a shot he didn’t plan for. Conversely, the scenes featuring Morgan Freeman and Michael Caine were completely on-book, a testament to those actors’ experience and professionalism.
4. The hero shots used in the commercial for the Four Horsemen’s Las Vegas show were taken from camera tests of the actors in wardrobe for the first time.
5. The Vegas show was shot in the basketball arena at the University of New Orleans, about a half hour from the French Quarter. It was populated with 300 real extras and filled in with CGI extras and blow-up dolls.
6. The audience member (José Garcia) who is brought on stage during the Vegas show is described by Leterrier as “the Steve Carell of France.” (According to Leterrier, “the Tom Cruise of France” turned down the role.) Even though he’s a minor character, he was featured prominently on the French poster.
7. Mark Ruffalo’s character of Dylan had a different opening, which featured a day-in-the-life of an FBI agent. However, Leterrier decided to drop him into the case to show the beginning of his performance as the FBI agent rather than his set-up.
8. When Dylan interviews Thaddeus (Morgan Freeman), he starts to defend Lionel Shrike a little too much. This is a tip of the hat to the reveal that Dylan is actually Shrike’s son.
9. The scene with Conan O’Brien was originally written as a generic TV show host. Conan O’Brien (who normally never does these bits) took the part because he wanted to act in a scene opposite Michael Caine.
10. The original script called for Act II performance of the Four Horsemen to take place in Atlantic City. The production switched it to New Orleans because they were already shooting there for tax incentives, and New Orleans has a strong history of magicians.
11. The Savoy Theater in New Orleans where the Four Horsemen’s Act II takes place was hit hard by Hurricane Katrina and is only opened for productions like this. A story circulated during festivals and the junket that Michael Caine wandered off the set and ended up spending four nights locked in a closet during the shooting of this scene. Leterrier and Cohen deny this ever happened.
12. David Copperfield was consulted for the magic tricks and illusions, and Leterrier claims that everything done in the film is already being done in magic shows are is currently being developed by performers like Copperfield.
13. Woody Harrelson likes to insert his friends’ names into his movies, so all the names he calls during Act II are versions of his friends’ names.
14. The film was shot during Mardi Gras in New Orleans. During the foot chase through the streets, the production controlled the extras immediately on and around the sets. However, the people seen in the background during the wide shots are actual real drunken partiers. When Ruffalo leaps onto a car, the beads being thrown at him were from actual drunken Mardi Gras participants.
15. The car chase on the 59th Street Bridge was a combination of second unit photography and a practical car crash on the Crescent City Bridge in New Orleans. The lattice work on the bridge was replaced with computer graphics to make it look like the 59th Street Bridge.
16. The shot of the balloons bursting from the safe and the money bursting from Thaddeus’ car did not go as planned. A crew member was in the safe, pushing balloons out of the door, and stunt men were dressed in money suits to push money out of the car once it was opened. However, neither ended up being as impressive as Leterrier wanted.
17. Cohen says he gets a lot of “gotcha” questions from people who have seen the movie, trying to find a mistake in the twists. The only one he claims he can’t answer came from his 12-year-old son and his friends who ask why the Four Horsemen didn’t just steal the money from the safe when they were taking all the time to set up the mirror in its hiding place.
18. Audiences in different countries get the reveal of the film at different times. American and European audiences get it when Dylan steps out of the cell and Thaddeus gets a look of realization on his face. Asian audiences tended to not have it fully sink in until Thaddeus says “That was you?”
Best in Commentary
- Leterrier: “It was the choice between Isla drowns or 150 extras get electrocuted.” Cohen: “And the insurance company wouldn’t cover either of those.”
- Leterrier: “Mardi Gras lasts forever. Mardi Gras is three months of drunkenness.”
- Cohen: “That was our backstop. If David Copperfield didn’t think it was possible, we couldn’t do it in our movie.”
I know that Now You See Me got some mediocre and mixed reviews this summer, but I enjoyed the heck out of it. Sure, it’s not a brilliantly-written film, but it was a nice, disposable piece of popcorn entertainment. For the most part, Leterrier and Cohen keep things real on the commentary and don’t try to make the movie more than it really is. In fact, Leterrier actually comes off a bit more modest than Cohen does, but that’s producers for you.
There’s a nice assortment of behind-the-scenes information in the commentary that cover a range of topics – from production politics to actor quirks. Aside from Cohen getting a little overly braggadocios at times (like when he claims Jesse Eisenberg hasn’t played this sort of character before when he’s clearly a more showy version of Mark Zuckerberg, or after the fifth time he says, “This is one of my favorite shots”), it’s exactly the kind of disposable and entertaining commentary that the movie is itself.