Friday, August 10, 2012

Movie Review - The Prestige

The Prestige
Based on the book by Christopher Priest
Release Date: October 20th, 2006
Starring: Christian Bale, Hugh Jackman, David Bowie, Michael Caine, Scarlett Johansson, Rebecca Hall, Andy Serkis
Rating: ★★★★★
To Buy

"Every great magic trick consists of three parts or acts. The first part is called "The Pledge". The magician shows you something ordinary: a deck of cards, a bird or a man. He shows you this object. Perhaps he asks you to inspect it to see if it is indeed real, unaltered, normal. But of course... it probably isn't. The second act is called "The Turn". The magician takes the ordinary something and makes it do something extraordinary. Now you're looking for the secret... but you won't find it, because of course you're not really looking. You don't really want to know. You want to be fooled. But you wouldn't clap yet. Because making something disappear isn't enough; you have to bring it back. That's why every magic trick has a third act, the hardest part, the part we call "The Prestige."

Alfred Borden and Robert Angier are both destined to be magicians. They are also destined to be rivals and eventually bitter enemies. After a tragic accident, most likely Borden's fault, Angier's wife dies and so begins their endless battle. At first it's small incidents, public humiliations and trick tampering, thereby their stars rise and fall like a see saw. Soon the stakes get higher, and Angier cripples Borden. But it's Borden who makes the first big break as a magician with his trick "The Transported Man." Borden enters a door on one side of the stage and simultaneously emerges on the other side. It's impossible. Angier becomes obsessed. He has to know how it's done, because it's not a double that emerges from the other door, it's the same man. Yet Borden lacks the showmanship needed to truly enthrall the audience, showmanship that Angier has as The Great Danton.

So Angier is soon peddling his own version of Borden's trick, "The New Transported Man." While it is a success for Angier, he knows that it is not the trick Borden is doing. It's a pale imitation that Borden soon destroys. Yet Angier is determined to lose everything to find out Borden's secret, travelling half way around the world to see if Nikola Tesla holds the key. If real magic exists. In a tale of obsession, revenge, misdirection, murder and jealousy you will come to the realization that the answer was right in front of you the whole time, you just wanted to believe the world was magical, you wanted to be fooled from the simplicity of the world for just a second.

Back in 2005 when it was announced that this movie had gone into production I immediately went out and picked up the book by Christopher Priest which it was to be based on. Why the interest you might ask? Well, David Bowie was going to be playing Nikola Tesla. That was it. I was sold. I still do have a tendency to want to read the book before I see the movie, but a few years back I quite literally wouldn't go see a movie till I had read the book. I enjoyed the book, it had many of my favorite things, Victorian England, false seances, rivaling magicians. The book was in an era I longed to live in. Yet the book had flaws, mainly anything set in the modern era. Yes, it had that kind of framing device. Yet Nolan, while turning it into a movie understood that such a framing device was superfluous. Therefore the movie soared above my expectations and delivered beyond imagining.

Because I had foreknowledge of what the big secret that Robert Angier was trying to discover about Alfred Borden I was able to marvel at what Nolan was able to do. The answer to everything is there in every frame of the movie. This is a movie that bears repeat viewings, because if you don't know what's really happening, you won't be able to appreciate how sophisticated Nolan's film truly is. In all fairness, Nolan does warn us with the first line of the film "are you watching closely?" Really, WATCH CLOSELY! The answer is there all along.

The brilliance of his parred down and tightened script, combined with the luxurious costumes and luscious sets creates a sensory overload that a period piece needs to thrive. The atmosphere, created mainly with natural lighting, and the opulent theatres, many of them surprisingly in California and not England, gives the visual depth that the book lack. There is no way to properly write how watching a Tesla coil is a visceral experience that you feel as a jolt through your entire body. Nolan was able to capture this on film in a way a book never could.

Yet the true genius is not in the setting or the story but in the casting. Without Bale and Jackman there would be no film. The two of them are both able to show an amazing range that I don't think they'd ever had the chance to do in a single film before. While Bale is now known mainly for the mockable and growly Batman voice, he is in fact a gifted actor who can capture the moods of Borden perfectly. The tip of the hat has to go to Jackman though. When Caine as Angier's ingénieur, Cutter, tells him that in order to replicate Borden's "Transported Man" he will need a double, Nolan goes one better and has Jackman play his own double. As a drunken, bad toothed, lisping fool who isn't above Blackmail. Also, note how the subtly raised the bridge of his nose adds to the differentiation. Not only is it the comedic highpoint of the film, it shows the brilliance of Jackman. It's ironic to think that two men, both known in the mainstream for playing superheroes, are able to star together in a film about rivaling Victorian stage magicians, and bring such subtle and nuanced performances to their roles, emphasis on the plural. Who needs Adamantium claws when you have Tesla/David Bowie, providing you with your stage pyrotechnics?


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