Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Now You See Me (a spoiler filled post on the cost of cuts)

Note the title.  Spoilers.

Now, I've mentioned that Now You See Me  is the kind of thing that I think could do well as a TV series in the style of Leverage or The A-Team.  A story of outlaws doing justice via crime.  In The A-Team they used their skills as inventive soldiers, in Leverage it was their skills as thieves, in Now You See Me the series (which is, so far as I know, never going to happen) it would be using things out of the magician's handbook.

If one looks at it like that then the movie itself would be the origin story.  The original A-Team never had an origin story episode, it just had an opening narration.  Leverage did, and the movie The A-Team was an origin story.

There's a problem with all three origin stories if allowed to stand on their own.  They're self serving.  The Leverage crew wanted payback after their client didn't pay them and tried to kill them.  The A-Team wanted to clear their names after being framed.  Now You See Me is a bit different in that the people doing most of the work (though not the planning) aren't the ones with the vendetta, but it's still about someone getting even.

And this is where we go spoiler heavy.

In existing editions of the movie what happened was this.

Thaddeus Bradley was a magician who was either jealous or not that good or just cared about making as much money as he could.  The exact reason doesn't matter.  He realized that magic wasn't working for him and decided that instead he could ruin other magicians for a profit.  He'd strip away the mystery, show how all their tricks were done, and give them a bad name while he was at it.  (He referred to his first mark as a "two bit hustler".)

In order to break into the world of media he concentrated on a single magician: Lionel Shrike.  Thaddeus' debut was to utterly destroy Shrike's career and do it mercilessly.

It took Shrike a year to even recover enough to attempt a comeback.  He was going to do an escape.  He was chained up, locked in a safe, and dropped in the Hudson River.

It turned out that the safe manufacturer was corrupt.  The substandard worse-than-advertised materials they used couldn't take the pressure of the river even though, if the safe had been manufactured properly, it shouldn't have been a problem.  The safe warped itself shut sealing Shrike inside and thus killing him.

Shrike's life insurance refused to pay and as a result the family was ruined.

Flash forward to the time of the movie.  Four magicians are recruited to be initiated into a secret society that guards real magic.  To get in they need to follow a series of instructions with blind obedience.  The instructions are three shows.

Show one: they rob the bank that carried the note on the insurance that refused to pay out because it was totally their fault.

Huh? Wha? Wait.

In a deleted scene it is instead said that they foreclosed on the Shrike family house forcing them onto the street.  Given the time in which we live it isn't hard to believe that they did this without sufficient cause and were still doing it to people at the time they were robbed.  Switching from that to "the bank that carried the note" really kills a lot of the righteous indignation that makes one think the bank should be robbed.

In fact there's nothing that makes one feel the bank should be robbed and the money is given to a random Vegas crowd.  If they'd stuck with foreclosure then they could have done so much more because Nevada, especially around Vegas if I remember correctly, was hit really hard in that arena.  The crowd could have been selected from people who were hurt by that.

Anyway, second show: The insurer who refused to pay out.  This was played well.  They robbed the guy, but they gave the money to very specific people.  The show took place in New Orleans and everyone in the crowd had been loopholed out of insurance settlements post Hurricane Katrina.  They robbed the insurer to give the people the money they were cheated out of by the insurer.  Something that you can feel morally good about.

The third show was the safe manufacturer.  It since became a security company that is under investigation by the FBI. What gets cut is that it isn't just under investigation, it's known to be guilty. The FBI knows where the safe with the dirty money is, they're just waiting for someone to show up and claim it.  The security contractor stole the money from funds intended for reconstruction stuck it in a safe in a warehouse, and waited, hoping that if they waited long enough no one would make the connection when they finally tapped the money.

Them showing up to open the safe is the break that the FBI is looking for because it'd be hard to weasel out of responsibility then.

Also cut is the part where it's pointed out that the money is being sent back to the ones it was originally intended for.

The result is that it doesn't really feel all justicey but instead more of, "What the fuck, you're going after these people because of one bad safe decades ago when they don't even make safes anymore?"

And finally Thaddeus Bradley is framed.

Bradley being framed works out because Morgan Freeman can pull of "condescending remorseless asshole who you want to see behind bars" quite well.  It's a talent.  It has to be because, even taking the deleted scenes into account, Bradley is the one who there's the least damning things against.  He's a parasite and his idea to catapult his own career by destroying Shrike's did ultimately result in Shrike's death, but destroying someone's career as a magician isn't even illegal.

The closest thing I know of to Bradley in the real world is "The Masked Magician" who was absolutely nothing like Bradley.  He showed how a variety of magic tricks were done, but they were tired old tricks that no one really relied on anymore.  His career was an attempt to force magic forward rather than an attempt to destroy someone and profit off that person's downfall.  For there to be a real world Bradley there would need to be, say, someone who decided to make a name for himself by showing how every single one of, say, David Copperfield's tricks is done in such a way as to bring down Copperfield and force him to go back to the drawing board for whatever his next act would be (which could take years because magic tricks take a lot of work), which no one might attend anyway.

Then Copperfield would have to die in his comeback attempt and the person who destroyed Copperfield's career would have to respond to the death not with guilt or even sympathy but instead scorn.

Regardless, that's part of what was lost in the cutting.  Of the four targets two don't come across as deserving enough.


Another thing that changed was money and Fuller.

I like Agent Fuller.  Agent Fuller is the sidekick.  Agent Fuller is gender non-conforming. While the person who discovered this (the mentalist) makes fun of him for this, and Fuller is very uncomfortable about being outed, it's the case that Fuller is presented in a positive light.  Even when the mentalist is making fun of him, it's clear that the mentalist is being an asshole.  But back to Fuller.  He's loyal, he's smart, he's competent.  He can't win, but in part that's because his boss is secretly working for the other side.

But then he gets left hanging at the end of the movie.

The original way things were going to play out was this:

The horsemen dropped real money on the crowd (in the revised version one is left wondering why no one but Fuller noticed it was obviously fake) and everyone assumed it was money they had stolen.  Fuller was the only one who took a closer look at the money.  He checked the dates.  He reveals what he learned  (the next morning) by showing a bill that's two years old.  The stolen money had been waiting in the safe for 5 years.  So the money couldn't have been from the safe.

Fuller and the main character discuss what's happening and Fuller points out that:
1 They're probably going to lose their jobs.
2 He loves his job.
3 He needs his job.

The Four Horsemen meet up with the main character in the middle of nowhere and he gives them a choice, they can take their share of the money (a quarter of a billion each, give or take) or they can join the secret society that uses magic to bring justice.  They can't do both.

Eventually they decide to join the society.

At that point Fuller, who hasn't been fired yet, is given a phone call revealing the location of the money and he runs off to retrieve it which will presumably make him a hero and thus let him keep his job.

All of that gets lost to the cutting room floor.  Even in the extended edition Fuller's story just ... stops.


Another thing was Alma Dray.  I'd very much like a copy of the original script because her story was clearly different.

In the existing film (theatrical or extended) she's sent by Interpol, is largely dismissed by main character, has him blow up on her for no real reason toward the end, points out correctly that she's done nothing to deserve such treatment, disappears for a bit, reappears asking main character to trust her ("take a leap of faith") he does, cue possible romance.  There's even a kiss.

In the deleted scenes, the reason that the main character isn't happy with her is that she wasn't who Interpol was supposed to send.  He knows the person Interpol was supposed to send and trusts that person.  She claims she had to replace the other agent because his mother was sick.

Instead of the blowing up for no reason in the final version, Main character gets a call that he's been waiting for for an unspecified period of time, the details of the phone call aren't clear (we only hear the very beginning and very end) but he's speaking French and both Alma and the agent that was supposed to be sent are French.  When he hangs up he says to Alma that she lied to him, presumably about the other agent's mother being sick but it isn't stated in the material I have available, and when next they speak it's tense and the reason that she disappears for a bit is that he won't tell her where they're going because, "I don't have the luxury of giving you the benefit of the doubt twice."

In the final version of the movie Alma gets treated badly for, apparently, shits and giggles.  In the version that isn't gone with she's actually treated less badly and there's a reason for him not to trust her.

It makes sense and also makes the main character much less of an asshole.


Finally there's references.  When the first (and only) Pirates of the Caribbean movie was made the film makers realized that they had a problem.  Will Turner needed to say, "Barbossa," because, "Hey, you, guy in the hat," simply wouldn't do.  Which meant that Will needed to learn that Barbossa was named Barbossa.  He didn't.  Never in the movie up to that point did he have an opportunity to learn the name.  So they rewrote an earlier scene to have Jack tell Will, "Captain Barbossa and his band of miscreants..."

This movie has the opposite going on.

In the end we have:
Dylan: I know that the logical conclusion for you is to take this case to it’s resolution and for you to turn me in.
Alma: Yeah.  But you know how I feel about resolution and logic.  And you also know that I think some things are best left unexplained.
Uh, no, he doesn't.  How she feels about logic (which was she didn't think it was going to help in solving this case) was in an alternate version a scene that appears in the extended version but not in the theatrical.  How she feels about resolution is in a scene cut from both versions.

As for things best left unexplained, I'm not sure that exact thing ever comes out but it might be a reference to the scene that was cut from both versions.

In a scene inserted to take the place of various things cut out Dylan says, "You were right, it's bigger than all of us," to someone who never said it was bigger than all of them.

Cut scenes and suddenly your characters are spewing non-sequiturs.  

1 comment:

  1. That does help make the movie make more sense. And gives better motivation to the Four Horsemen and makes it easier to remember why Thaddeus Bradley gets framed - I had to rethink it to remember the why.