If there’s one thing a magician never reveals, it’s the secrets behind their illusions. There’s good reason for this: if the illusion were figured out, it would lose its impact as an entertainment piece, and once it has lost its impact, a magician is pretty much out of a job. And yet, if an illusion is part of a larger crime, it is the responsibility of police investigators to understand how these tricks were performed. After all, that’s what investigators do: they recreate what happened, even if what happened was something which seemed impossible. Still, if there is anyone you don’t want turning to crime, it’s an illusionist. Not only are they physically agile, but they have trained their minds to deceive others, investigators included. This week’s two films look at a few crimes committed by magicians and the policemen who have to investigate them.
Length: 110 minutes / 1.83 hours
One of the difficulties with investigating magicians is that they are good at the three elements of trickery: the pledge, the turn, and the prestige. In a disappearing act, the prestige is when the magician brings the object back. And yet, what if the prestige is never performed? An illusionist could perform a crime and disappear without a trace, leaving the investigators scratching their heads as to the location of the perpetrator. These stage performers are too smart to get caught and have thought out every element of their crime in detail, setting up elements of it a long time in advance. However, when the crime isn’t that clear, when all the players move to the illusionist’s plan, this is when investigating the whole incident becomes a much trickier affair, especially when it involves the death of a Crown Prince.
Chief Inspector Walter Uhl (Paul Giamatti) is investigating the death of Duchess Sophie von Teschen (Jessica Biel). Now a murder investigation is already pretty complicated, but it’s even more-so when the Duchess is the fiancée of Leopold, the Crown Prince of Austria (Rufus Sewell), who is also one of the lead suspects. However, let’s add in the element of one of Sophie’s childhood friends: Eisenheim the Illusionist (Edward Norton). Inspector Uhl’s men have seen Sophie and Eisenheim together a few times, and the Crown Prince has even had the Illusionist perform at a private party, even after he volunteered Sophie as a volunteer for a trick in a public show. When Uhl tries to arrest Eisenheim, the Illusionist disappears in a cloud of smoke. Shortly after the death of Leopold, Inspector Uhl is given a portfolio of all of Eisenheim’s illusions and is able to finally piece together the mystery.
Now You See Me
Length: 115 minutes / 1.92 hours
Houdini performed many tricks which required him to escape from locked containers. But what if these tricks were worked in reverse? What if instead of getting out of a locked room, the trick would be to get into one? Bank heists often have many elements associated with illusions: intense planning, understanding of human patterns, and a lot of smoke and mirrors. So what if magicians were to use their powers to rob a bank? Not only would the investigator in charge of the case have a difficult time figuring out the motive, but how they did it as well. Who would an investigator even turn to for help in these types of situations, since the mere notion of a magician robbing a bank sounds so incredibly ludicrous? After all, as I’ve said at the beginning of this post, a magician never reveals their secrets.
Magicians come in many varieties. From the standard illusionist, to escapists, to sleight of hand, to mentalists, each magician has their own style and set of skills. When four such illusionists are brought together under the name “Four Horsemen” for a performance in Las Vegas, no one thinks the “bank robbery” for their final act is real. That is until the FBI realizes its validity and sends Dylan Rhodes (Mark Ruffalo) to investigate with Interpol agent Alma Dray (Mélanie Laurent). To assist with the investigation, they enlist the help of Thaddeus Bradley (Morgan Freeman), a magician who makes his money revealing the secrets behind other magicians’ tricks. After stealing many millions of dollars from their benefactor’s bank account at their show in New Orleans, the police get closer to catching the magicians in New York for their final performance. Will the police succeed or will the “Four Horsemen” disappear?
2 sum it up: 2 films, 2 magical mysteries