25 October 2006

FILM REVIEW: "The Prestige"

October 25, 2006 07:04 PM EDT
© 2006 by Digital Dogs

pres·tige (prÄ•-stÄ“zh', -stÄ“j') n.

1. Every great magic trick consists of three acts.

1a. The first act is called "The Pledge"; The magician shows you something ordinary, but of course... it probably isn't.

1b. The second act is called "The Turn"; The magician makes his ordinary some thing do something extraordinary. Now if you're looking for the secret... you won't find it, that's why there's a third act called,

1c. "The Prestige"; this is the part with the twists and turns, where lives hang in the balance, and you see something shocking you've never seen before.

Completely engrossing and compelling from the first line of dialog until the last, The Prestige is a grand success of a tightly plotted and twisted screenplay by a fascinating director, Christopher Nolan (Memento, Batman Begins, and the upcoming Batman sequel, The Dark Knight), that will definitely keep you guessing until the very end. This period Victorian twisted mystery chiller tells the story of an intense rivalry and long-time feud between two Illusionists living out their lives – and their feud – publicly on the stage in London.

In a rapidly changing turn-of-the-century London, magicians are the rock stars of their time. Two wonderful lead performances, both worthy of possible nominations, are turned in by the two competing magicians, Hugh Jackman as the sophisticated and courtly showman, Robert Angier (called Rupert in the Christopher Priest book from which it is based), and Christian Bale as his darker half, the brainier and more internalized, Alfred Borden. Both leads have shaded characters to play with many dark edges, and if careful attention is not paid the story will be hard to follow. In fact, the film opens with Michael Caine's character, Cutter, urging the audience to "watch closely" and those are not idle words.

Being that so many films are rushed into production without a truly finished script these days, it is an artful surprise to find a film with a tightly plotted story that almost, but not quite, feels a bit too long. The twists and turns of a plot well wound will impress you - as well as confound you - until the end. It's entirely likely that this script will receive a nomination for best adaptation.

In addition to the excellent script and lead actors, Director Nolan also deserves attention for his wickedly tricky direction and dark POV that tints the film with depth and darkness.

The film opens with Borden's arrest for the murder of Angier, and from there we flash back to reveal their story. The story begins at home for these Illusionists – on stage – as they are introduced as friends working a magic act together with Angier's wife, Julia (Piper Perabo, excellent in an extremely short-lived role).

Mistakes are made and one life is lost and that sets the stage for the competitive feud between the two magicians that ultimately defines both their lives. From that moment on they begin to focus on topping each other's illusions, and each illusion gets tougher and tougher to top.

When Borden creates the ultimate teleportation illusion "The Transported Man," Angier goes half mad in his attempt to find out how the trick is done so he can top his rival. Once he connives and bribes himself to the solution of the trick tables are turned once again. And the tables keep on turning through the entire film. Don't drink a lot of soda because you won't want to miss a thing if you have to leave the theater.

Michael Caine is his usual excellent self, a true actor with many faces; the face he exposes here is as a loyal assistant to Angier. It is Caine's character, Cutter, who steals each scene he's in as the insider who exposes the workings of a few of the illusions featured in the film. And it is Cutter who explains what the prestige is for the audience (via the definition at the beginning of this review, and of the film).

In another plot point Angier consults physicist, electrical engineer, and inventor Nikola Tesla (played wonderfully serious by David Bowie, whom you might not even recognize) who, at the time this story takes place, was working on theoretical work that formed the basis of modern alternating current electric power (AC) systems. Angier wants Tesla to create an illusion to top Borden. Tesla's assistant is played by the always-fascinating Andy Serkis in a sort of "Renfield" role, and his appearance in this film is always an amusing interlude.

Another in a long line of male-monk films, The Prestige features two actresses who look almost exactly alike playing the paramours of each magician, Scarlett Johansson as Olivia, and Rebecca Hall as Sarah, confusing matters even further. The only way to tell them apart is their hair color, wardrobe, and attitude, leaving one to wonder if this is yet another illusion of Nolan's purposefully thrown in to confuse us even more than we already are.

The Prestige keeps the audience guessing and wondering what's going to happen next – or wondering what you're not seeing that might clue you in to how a trick is done. After all, it's all sleight of hand… or is it?

NOTE: If you're a fan of the amazing Illusionist Criss Angel you just might be able to figure out how he does his incredible disappearing acts after seeing The Prestige. Good luck.


Digital Dogs rating: A

MPAA rating: Rated PG-13 for violence and disturbing images.

Running Time: 128 minutes

Producers Christopher Nolan, Aaron Ryder, Emma Thomas Director Christopher Nolan, Screenplay Jonathan Nolan, Christopher Nolan, Music David Julyan, Editor Lee Smith, DP Wally Pfister, Actors Hugh Jackman, Christian Bale, Michael Caine, Piper Perabo, Scarlett Johansson, Rebecca Hall, David Bowie, Andy Serkis, Ricky Jay

© 2006 by Digital Dogs



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