– Summary –
Director : Christopher Nolan
Year Of Release : 2006
Principal Cast : Hugh Jackman, Christian Bale, Scarlett Johansson, Michael Caine, Piper Perabo, Rebecca Hall, David Bowie, Andy Serkis, Ricky Jay, Roger Rees, Daniel Davis.
Approx Running Time : 130 Minutes
Synopsis: Two magicians try to one-up each other as their rivalry continues to grow.
What we think : Twisty, labyrinthine thriller showcases both its leading men, with Bale coming out on top for acting kudos this time round. One of those films where the ending is a complete question mark twist, The Prestige will satisfy even the most hardened, jaded cynic.
Christopher Nolan has a habit of directing good films. Memento swung everybody’s brain about the room and slammed it repeatedly into the wall. Batman Begins revolutionized the comic book genre film (again) and made a superstar of Christian Bale (finally) by making Batman “real”, rather than camp (see Batman Forever & Batman And Robin for examples of films of a campy nature). With the upcoming release of The Dark Knight set to revolutionise the comic book genre film (again again!), I grabbed a copy of The Prestige (a film I had missed originally, not through any lack of interest, mainly due to just not seeing it on the shelf at the time) and sat back in the FF Home Cinema to have a look.
And it’s a most impressive beast. Hugh Jackman and Christian Bale, as the two protagonists, are exceptional in their respective roles as Stage Magicians in the turn of the 20th Century England. As the film opens, we find that they were once friends (well, in a kind of light-hearted rivalry kind of way) who become enemies of sorts after a tragedy leaves Jackman’s wife dead. The game of one-upmanship and jealousy pervades the film, and is the catalyst for the rest of the movie. Jackman is obsessively pursuing Bale’s magical knowledge, and Bale ends up doing the same thing. With Bale apparently awaiting execution on death row for Jackman’s murder, the story leaps about through time, and you’re never really quite sure if you’re in the past, present or future.
The Prestige is based upon Christopher Priests 1995 novel of the same name, with Nolan and his brother Jonathan writing the screenplay. Not having read the novel (in fact, I only figured out the story was a novel first by Googling it on the internet) I cannot compare how the two stack up in terms of narrative faithfulness, but according to reports, the film is fairly accurate to the novel in most respects. Of course, film adaptations always differ somewhat in tone and editing, as a cinematic story requires different methods than a novel, where the reader can utilize their imagination in most cases. The film is a beautiful canvas of light and dark, both cinematically and with the performances. Wally Pfisters Oscar nominated cinematography is certainly worthy of the praise that was heaped upon it, with the muted and often oppressive English stage-hall style perfectly counterpointing the more colourful and clean Colorado backdrop for a portion of the film. The production design on the film is, as you’d expect, first rate, with the cast effortlessly slipping into Victorian-era England.
In terms of the cast, both lead actors do very well, with Jackman’s more showy character suiting his more stagey style of acting, while slow-burn Bale glowers and scowls his way through every intense scene he appears in, reminiscent of his roles in Equilibrium and The Machinist for their fervor. Johansson suffers the most out of all the cast, in the thankless role of the Magician’s Assistant (and she assists both male leads….) who is little more than window dressing. Of all the cast, it’s her I had the most issue with, as I felt her to be a little 1 dimensional. She’s certainly pretty, but her role was stupefyingly barren of any true emotive quality; unlike, say, Caine’s superior confidant.
Caine revels in his craft in this role, a role that is given more credence than perhaps it really deserved; Cutter (Caine) is the one who is the…butler…. to the magician. He stays in the wings, making sure the tricks pass muster and go off without a hitch. Perhaps the biggest head turner is David Bowie as Nikola Tesler, a Croatian expat scientist residing in Colorado, USA, and the man who is the clue that enables Bale’s character, Borden, to transport himself from one side of the room to another in an instant.
Bowie is good (not up to the standard as the rest of the cast, mind you) and almost unrecognizable in the role (I was watching and found something familiar about him, but he disappeared into the role quite well… I had to read the DVD cover to find out it was him.) alongside Gollum himself, Andy Serkis. Serkis mugs cheerfully for the camera, but in a way that makes him acceptable to the viewer.
The film insists on utilizing the Memento style, cutting back and forth between characters journeys, as Borden and Angier (Jackman) slowly but surely ramp up the tension in this masterful, but flawed, plot.
One gets a sense of “there’s a twist coming” filmmaking here, and it’s unfortunate that this feeling is set up from the get go, as the ultimate twist would have been better had it not been so obviously telecast beforehand: a catch 22, since the film is all about the art of deception and illusion. You kind of get the feeling early on that something will happen at the end of the film that makes everything you’re seeing not quite ring true. And after about an hour of the film, some of the clues become painfully obvious as to what is going on.
But not everything is as it seems with The Prestige, and although the “twist” is hardly that in the long run, the emotional quality Bale and Jackman have throughout, and the investment that generate from the viewer, is such that the film is better than it would have been in lesser hands. Nolan seems to me to playing it safe a little in this film, hardly daring to innovate with his camerawork; it’s his editing that saves the day. had this been told in a linear way, The Prestige would have fallen quite flat. But the art of misdirection predicates a different approach, and consequently, the sum of it’s parts equals so much more than you’d think.
While certainly not on par with, say Batman Begins, I’d have to say I thoroughly enjoyed The Prestige, and I think you will too. It’s a good story, well told, with generally fine performances throughout, and enough mystery to keep you guessing along the way.