Magic! Twists! Crosses! Double-Crosses! It really is all an illusion: this movie is only pretending to be clever.
I’ll happily suspend disbelief for a magic trick – but that magic trick has to be happening in a world that seems vaguely realistic. The setpieces and staging don’t look like anything that would actually exist in the physical world – so it’s difficult to go on any kind of ride with the story, or any of its characters (none of whom are likeable). In fact, I never once feel that any of them is in any real danger, even when one is killed (probably because he’s the least-known actor in the cast, and did I mention I didn’t find any of the characters likeable?). I understand that we’re not supposed to ever be sure who to trust, but we stil need someone – anyone – to root for. I ask: who ARE we supposed to root for? Everyone in this feels like a villain: from our “heroes”, magicians Jesse Eisenberg, Woody Harrelson, Isla Fisher and Dave Franco; the cops on their tail led by Mark Ruffalo; Michael Caine’s sleazy bazillionaire benefactor / stresspot (I mean, even Nolan can make Caine seem appealing – what’s your excuse, Louis Letterier?); even Morgan Freeman’s magician detective is unlikeable. Morgan Freeman! Come on, Letterier. I feel like when directors try to pull a Fincher (dark world full of character twists), they fail because they somehow miss that those characters have to be sympathetic at some point in order for any twist to happen.
[See also: 21]