As the movie begins, I am genuinely excited. Who doesn’t love magic? Who doesn’t love escape artists? Never mind that most magic movies and docu-dramas have failed miserably – The Prestige being the exception.
The first act does not disappoint. James Randi is amazing. He escapes out of straight jackets. He bends keys. He makes cards disappear. He refocuses his life to expose those who use magic to harm others or to con people – psychics, faith-healers, those claiming psycho-kinetic powers.
Back in the 80’s and 90’s he brought down scientists, embarrassed TV hosts, and humiliated con-artists. Randi would use ‘long cons’ to ferret out the pseudo-scientists is equally disturbing and inspirational. A man so dedicated to truth and honesty that he would set up people? He would perpetuate two of the largest hoaxes in the ’80’s – the Juan Carlos story and the Psychic-Kinetic Academy.
All of that is fascinating but that wasn’t what the movie was really about.
The movie turns late in the 2nd act to reveal that Randi is gay and has had a partner for 25 years who is at least 30 years younger than he is. The director apparently wanted to point out the irony of a man who has purposed his life to expose those who are deceiving is actually a deceiver himself.
All of this secrecy is forced out when his partner is arrested for identity theft, illegal application and acceptance of an US Passport, and illegal entry and residency in the U.S. As Randi stands beside him in front of the court, his secret is revealed.
It is obvious that this story line was not originally the intent. There is a poignant scene near the end when Randi straight out tells the director – do not put this in the film. This story is about magic and those who have abused it to harm others.
But the film definitely shifts into celebrating Randi’s ‘coming out’ process. It dominates the back half of the film calling into question that maybe his personal life was more of a triumph than his professional life.
At this is the real problem I have with the film. The expose of the frauds is fascinating. The dilemma and drama of pulling off the two long cons that Randi orchestrated. His understanding of magic and the ability to pull it off at the age of 80 plus is … well…it’s amazing. His accomplishments to the world of magic are immeasurable.
Yet all of that seemed secondary to him being gay. What started out as a fascinating documentary on a magician, turned into a propaganda piece for gay marriage. My personal feelings aside on the issue – I felt like it cheated the accomplishments of Randi for the sake of the issue.