Saturday, October 29, 2011

The Prestige Review

(4 out of 5 Stars) It’s 1860. 19th century London and the rest of developing societies have convinced themselves that they are at the height of civil progression and have delved into gratifying forms of entertainment. One of the less attractive forms are magic, magicians forming illusions and mind-benders to test the intellect of theater goers. This is the backdrop to Christopher Nolan’s 2006 adaption of Christopher Priest’s celebrated novel. The film revolves around two rival magicians, Rupert Angier (Hugh Jackman) and Alfred Borden (Christian Bale).  The two once worked together, finding bigger and more elaborate ways to bend the minds of their theater goers. Angier’s wife was their assistant. One performance is the popular "Escaping the locked water chamber"- they start the pocket watch and the woman

is behind the curtain. The minute’s up, they pull the curtain, and the woman is dead. Angier blames Alfred, who later marries and starts a family. He envies his partner’s life. He quickly returns to magic acts, and utilizes a simple transport sequence. Everyone, including Angier’s new assistant, Olivia,(Scarlett Johannsen) and his manager, Cutter (Michael Caine) say it’s an illusion, using a behind the scenes duplicate. But Angier reads between the lines. He knows that Alfred is doing something different—is it true magic? An optical illusion, or the obvious answer, science? Angier spends years searching for the answer, growing corrupt and insane. Alfred isn’t faring well, all the while leading his ex-partner on a false trail and dealing with his wife (Rebecca Hall) who is tired of secrets. Angier seeks science and researches the possibility of cloning, which Alfred only tricked him into doing, but finds out it really is real. He suspects, however, that what Alfred may be performing is the greatest illusion of all time—or perhaps true magic.

It’s made clear from the beginning that this movie isn’t about magic tricks. The screenwriter doesn’t toy with supernatural elements but cleverly invests most of the plot in character development. Director Christopher Nolan helmed this film after Batman Begins but right before The Dark Knight, so he had already set a tone for himself as a film maker by this time. This, to me, feels a lot like a 19th century Inception. What makes this film engaging to watch is seeing the rival magicians trying to outsmart each other. Christopher Nolan brilliantly balances his multiple time periods in this (much like Inception) so that a wary viewer won’t get confused but is still in for a surprise at the end when the final card is laid on the table. He manages to juggle multiple subplots as well as mold the character psychology into the execution of the story, which in another’s hands would be disjointed. The camerawork is purposefully shaky and the cinematography purposefully dark as to illuminate the story’s tone and conflict.

The film is bolstered by powerful performances from its leading cast, who carry a lot of the weight here. It’s Jackman in particular who holds the viewers’ attention, managing to inject just the right amount of borderline psychosis that his character needs. The little exposition that's is in the story is mostly left spent on him, as Bale’s perspective is purposefully kept in the dark due to plot demands. He’s not only easy to watch but riveting in his role as a man driven to madness by obsession, idiosyncratic in his performance and chilling as an afterthought. This is possibly the most psychologically dark performance he’s given, which according to Hollywood is puberty for actors. 

Gripping, disturbing, and with just the right amount of narrative complexity, The Prestige proves to be a thrilling and unique period piece that racks up another cinematic success for Christopher Nolan. 



Rottentomatoes.com rating: 76% 
Commonsensemedia.org: 4 out of 5 Stars 
Metacritic.com: 66 out of 100 
IMDB.com: 8.4 out of 10 
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for violence and 
disturbing Images


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