July 25, 2013

Film review. An analysis of the cinematography of Now You See Me by Louis Leterrier

It's summertime. Theatres are full of Hollywood commercial films which entertain and leave very little space to make the audience think. Now You See Me, directed by Louis Leterrier ( Clash of Titans, Hulk, Transporter 2), is one of them.

The plot. 4 magicians join forces to create the biggest show in the world mesmerizing the audience with a series of original and incredible heists which will make FBI and Interpol investigating them and scrambling to anticipate their next move.

Cinematography: Larry Fong, Mitchell Amundsen
Camera: Panavision Panaflex Gold II, Millenium XL2, Lightweight and Platinum
Lenses: Panavision G Series, C series,
Aspect ratio: 2.35:1
Format: 35mm
Film Stock: Kodak Vision 5219 500T, Kodak Vision 5207 250D, Kodak Vision 5213 200T

The French US-based director made a singular choice for his last film: he chose two cinematographers. He called again  Mitchell Amundsen (G.I. Joe, Wanted, Transformers) with whom he already worked in his first feature, Transporter 2,  and who rather has an extensive filmography as second unit DP (The Bourne Legacy, Mission Impossible III and Ghost Protocol, The Island, National Treasure, The Bourne Supremacy...). But Leterrier also called Larry Fong (Super 8, Watchmen, 300, Lost) whose quality as cinematographer, especially for action-movies, is probably second to none. According to Leterrier himself, Fong was in charge to shoot the magic scenes and Amundsen to shoot all the action scenes. Lots of questions arise from this choice, but what it really matters is that the two cinematographers worked really well together, achieving an homogeneous good quality result. Both Fong and Amundsen shot their previous work on film, and the director is fond of the film format, so this choice was unanimous, as it was the choice of Panavision cameras, a preference easily visible in both cinematographer's filmography. The grain is subtle but present and the big work in post production managed to keep the organic look of the Kodak film stock.

Light is slightly expressionist and theatrical which works really well with the story. When on stage the magicians are generally lit from above and light beams keeps moving around all over the magicians and the audience (during the final show light beams are bigger and work as  blue-contrasty-back lights for characters), while all kind of lights on the stage keep turning on and off continuously, creating a very appropriate show effect. When not on stage, the magicians are still lit with a light that has a kind of magic and an atmosphere which reminds the one of a show: natural light sources are used (like windows for example) but they are exaggerated  or diffused with smoke, achieving an unnatural effect; moreover, anamorphic lenses are used producing, when a back light is framed, the typical lineal flare crossing the frame from side to side; these constant and bluish flares remind the light beams used in shows: very good and clever way to highlight the fact that the four magicians are not making tricks just on stage...

The way Fong and Amundsen lit the film remarkably suits the story and the camera movements definitely enhances it. Camera doesn't stop moving, on dolly, on steady, on crane, hand-held... Not only during chase and action shots but also during the show scenes and the ones with dialogue between characters: camera hardly stays still on a tripod. Camera movements are framed in short shots put together with a dynamic editing full of rhythm; this creates a sense of confusion which helps not to make the audience understand not just the tricks but even what will happen next, just like a magician who leads the audience eyes and attention away to perform his trick.

Now You See Me is a film that doesn't offer much more than fair entertainment and it will keep your attention  during almost 2 hours even if the characters aren't developed at all and we never empathize with them and  the final is too simple for the way the story is told. Anyway, Fong and Amundsen do their job and, even if its cinematography is not among the top ones of the year, it makes the film more entertaining and captivating.


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