Monday, May 9, 2011

The Prestige (Nolan. 2006)

"Are you watching closely?"

I have been a fan of magic ever since I was a young boy. It does not matter how simple the trick is - if you can do magic I am in love with you. Because of my boyhood obsession with the art of magic, one would think that Christopher Nolan's The Prestige should be a film that I would really enjoy. But sadly, my relationship with this picture is a bit more complicated than that. As one of the youngest films on the 1077 Films to See Before You Die, The Prestige defines the idea of a hit or miss popcorn movie. And though that may be viewed as a cop-out, I will still try my best to explain.

Christopher Nolan is one of the newest superstar directors of the blockbuster popcorn movie. His credits include the horrifically bad Batman Begins (2005), its sequel The Dark Knight (2008) and last summer's fanboy wet dream, Inception (2010). Nolan makes movies that are very entertaining, but he is not interested in making them well. The Prestige is the exception to that rule. What it has in craftsmanship, it lacks in withstanding entertainment value. This is where the review gets very particular.

I have to say that this is my second favorite film that Nolan has made, but I am not a fan of his in the first place. His films have developed a reputation for being incredible to see in the theatre, but awful films to watch after DVD release. Nolan usually makes movies for the biggest of screens, but The Prestige is again the exception. This is a film that is worth waiting for the Red Box release. I saw this twice in theatres when it was released in 2006. I loved it once. I hated it once. I have seen it multiple times since then and my sentiments are still split down the middle. I have no idea if The Prestige is a good movie because of how uninteresting it is after the initial viewing.

The film follows the story of two rival magicians in a time when being a magician was still a relevant celebrity profession. As the rivalry between the two, Robert Angier (Hugh Jackman) and Alfred Borden (Christian Bale), becomes more and more personal - you see that they are simply obsessed with their craft. They both risk their personal happiness, families and well being just to claim the top spot in the magic world. Once Borden performs his best trick, “The Transported Man”, Angier becomes crazed with curiosity over how the trick works. This begins the unfolding of a twisty plotline with very little filler space.

Christian Bale is not an actor that I am particularly fond of, but if I have to pick a performance of his I will always pick The Prestige. I cannot tell you what he does well in this film without giving away the shocking ending, but he tackles a task that is not easy for any actor. Hugh Jackman gives an absolutely incredible performance that drives the entire plot of the picture. You believe his obsession. And you follow his words with close attention.

An interesting aspect of Nolan’s screenplay is that it constantly switches which side you are on. The film starts with Borden irresponsibly tying a knot that constricts (and causes the drowning of) Angier’s wife in the middle of a crowded performance. This could be a classic example of magic gone wrong, but Borden was warned several times that his knot tying was not safe. Angier holds him responsible for his wife's death, and so does the audience.

But as the story progresses, Angier falls more deeply into the role of the enemy. This all comes to a climax when he sends his lover (Scarlett Johansson) away to spy on his rival, ending their relationship. The most memorable dive into the magician’s fragile psyche is when she tells Angier that none of this will bring his wife back. To which Angier exclaims – “I don’t care about my wife. I care about his (Borden’s) secrets!” Wow, he is lost in his need for revenge.

“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 and 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.”

Nolan succeeds with the first two parts of his magic trick, but he fails at the finale. The Prestige lacks exactly what the title promises because the story is never really brought back to the viewer. Though his concept was interesting – it spiraled out of control somewhere midway through “The Turn.” This is my problem with The Prestige. Watch it once, after that, never again.

The Prestige: C+

My Next Film....Fight Club (Fincher. 1999)

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