Writer: Helena HonWriter Ratings:Overall: Cast: Plot: Effects: Cinematography: Watch this if you liked:
"X-Men III", "Batman Begins", "Memento", "Insomnia"
Are you watching closely?
That's the tag-line for "The Prestige" but it's also good advice lest you blink and miss the sleight-of-hand that this movie really is. Yes, the "The Prestige" is about magic, or rather the third part of a magic act where - to quote the magician's manager Harry Cutter's words (played by Michael Caine) - "the astonishment takes place as the audience cannot unravel a magician's secrets". In short, if a magician makes something disappear, he must make it reappear or there wouldn't be a climax and the audience's delight at the trick. And that's what "The Prestige" is all about. Therefore, the key to fathoming this most unusual movie, lies in its title.
Have I confused you? Good. I shall explain. "The Prestige" is writer/director Christopher Nolan's latest outing after "Memento", "Insomnia" and of course, the acclaimed "Batman Begins". By casting Hugh Jackman ("X-Men I,II,III") and Christian Bale (Batman) as the main protags, he has essentially made this movie a 'Wolverine Vs Batman' film; a clever pre-sell strategy if this was what he intended but putting that aside, "The Prestige" didn't really need the campaigning because it is an excellent film in its own right.
Rupert Angier (Jackman) and Alfred Borden (Bale) are aspiring stage illusionists in London in the late 1800s. The two of them start off as friendly rivals but after a tragedy which involves the loss of a life through the overconfidence of one of them, they become bitter enemies. They part ways until one of them, Borden - the better thaumaturge but lesser showman - creates an amazing stage illusion called 'The Transported Man'. Angier - the superior entertainer but lesser magician - is consumed by jealousy and tries to replicate it using the only logical method he knows. It works and Angier, through his showier, glitzier dramatic presentation, becomes known as the originator of the trick. From here on, the two try to outdo each other, and go all out to upstage each other to rob one another of success. Angier, in particular, becomes obsessed with learning the true method of the 'The Transported Man' believing it to be more complicated than it really is, and goes to tragic lengths with very dire consequences to obtain the secret.
Set in the gaslight-and-velvet world of Victorian music halls, "The Prestige" is really a rich and fascinating story about obsessive secrecy and insatiable curiosity. The film has a sprawling, time-shifting narrative that takes place over a span of time (perhaps years) and the journey to the end is laden with twists and turns. In the course of the luscious 135 minutes of the film, we witness the degeneration of the relationship between the two men.
Jackman and Bale are tight in their performance with Jackman carrying the story along and Bale carrying most of its emotional weight. Michael Caine as Angier's assistant Mr Cutter is the link between the two estranged men and he, as always, is transfixing to watch. Rebecca Hall pulls at your heartstrings as Bordon's sad wife Sarah while Scarlett Johansson, now decked up in a blonde wig, supports well. I almost could not recognise David Bowie as the mysterious Dr Tesla.
Simply put, "The Prestige", which is based on the 1995 novel by British author Christopher Priest, is Nolan's best film. It is personal, heartrending and every bit as good as "Batman Begins" and then some. Yes, at times, I have to admit that Nolan pulls the suspense a little too long and loses the magic of the moment but this doesn't ruin an otherwise brilliant piece of work. I wouldn't spoil your fun by revealing anything but when you're watching the movie, remember to heed the tagline and watch very, very closely.Cinema Online, 23 September 2008