When I was younger I had a big
fascination with magic. I even dabbled as a magician, starting in school
talent shows, and as I got older entertaining groups of church kids. I
don't think I outgrew it, but rather got preoccupied with other endeavors.
The interest in it definitely remains. I've seen David Copperfield live
three times, and whenever the opportunity presents itself I still keep tabs on
the latest tricks. Some of my childhood heroes ranged from guys like
Harry Blackstone to Harry Anderson. So needless to say when I heard
director Christopher Nolan (MEMENTO and BATMAN BEGINS) was doing
a movie about dueling magicians, I was pretty stoked. I'm already a fan
of Nolan's work. He has a style that is visually exciting, and
cerebrally stimulating. I consider MEMENTO a masterpiece in
low-budget storytelling, and BATMAN BEGINS to be an amazing example of
comic book filmmaking. But magic is tricky subject matter. Some
people find it to be silly, and others could simply care less. But those
who know magic and the history of the art are aware that there can easily be a
dark side to it. And that is exactly what Chris plays on with this film.
opens by introducing us to Robert Angier (Hugh Jackman) and Alfred Borden
(Christian Bale), two young men who work as audience plants for practicing
magicians. Their teacher is a man named Cutter (Michael Caine), who
insists on them learning the proper way to wow an audience. Angier's
wife Julia (Piper Perabo) hides her true identity acting as a magician's
assistant. One night when Angier and Borden are routinely assisting on
stage for one of Julia's watery escape tricks, Borden gets cocky and ties the
wrong knot. The trick goes bad and Julia dies. This results in the
two friends parting ways. After some time passes, each of them have
taken the stage. While Borden is content to struggle in bars with
drunken audiences, Angier goes all out trying to become an erudite theatrical
illusionist. But the death of his wife haunts Robert, and he wants more
than anything to return that hurt on Alfred. They compete with each
other, sometimes in drastic ways. But things get really strange when
Angier witnesses Borden perform an astounding trick, which just can't seem to
be explained. This starts an obsession, which leads Angier to eccentric
scientist Nikola Tesla (David Bowie), in hopes of creating his own baffling
routine that can trump Borden. But his pursuit of perfection may end up
being his own undoing. How does Borden do what he does? What is
his secret? A real magician will never tell...
Christopher Nolan returns to
his MEMENTO style of filmmaking. This is one of those films that
makes you think, and then think some more. You'll repeatedly hear the
line "Are you watching closely?" There's a reason. This is a film
that demands focused attention. What you think is going on is not.
What you think has happened hasn't. As each man struggles to uncover the
secrets, we're doing our best to work it out as well. I was surprised to
learn that the film's trailer is rather deceiving, as the story plays out much
differently than you would expect. We see the highs of each character,
and the lows, and their victories and defeats. This is almost more of a
character study than a straightforward film. Hugh Jackman is terrific as
the obsessive Angier. His haunting past creates some incredible tension,
and it's a fascinating portrayal. Christian Bale pulls out his darkest
acting abilities here, and still manages to show us some endearing qualities
with his character. Every man has a light and dark side, and both these
guys are prime examples. Scarlett Johansson portrays Angier's stage
assistant Olivia, who becomes a potential romantic interest. Sadly her
character is pretty wasted and ultimately unimportant. It could've been
just about anyone in this role. The more interesting female in played by
Rebecca Hall, who portrays Borden's love interest Sarah. These two start
out with a passionate and sincere relationship, but the twisted events that
play out put a serious strain on them. Hall gets to show an amazing
range of emotion in her role, and shows up all of the other women in the cast.
Michael Caine is... well.. Michael Caine. He's the smart mentor guy that
nobody listens to. I liked the fact that he plays a guy who should have
all the answers, but is often times just as confused by what's going on as
everyone else. Two supporting characters worthy of note are Nikola Tesla
played by David Bowie, and his assistant Alley played by Andy Serkis.
Bowie is the perfect choice for an eccentric man like Tesla. He embodies
the genius and quirkiness that character deserves. I also noticed he
sounds and looks a lot like an older Pierce Brosnan... see if you agree.
Andy Serkis is one of my favorite actors who to date has not received the
roles he really deserves. He's got some fun moments here, and I'm glad
he's finally getting some screen time in big movies.
Nolan has yet to disappoint me.
This film doesn't break that feeling either. I enjoyed the character
interaction and the mysterious storytelling techniques. That said this
film is not without its faults. While clocking in at 98 minutes, the
pacing feels a bit long and drug out. I'm not sure how it could've been
improved, but there were some tedious moments throughout. Now maybe
that's intentional, so that we can properly understand the mindset of these
two men. There's also a major turning point in the film where things
take a drastic turn from reality to fantasy. I really enjoyed the
reality-based moments, because it made things so creepy to think it could
really happen. But when the turning point hits, we're reduced to an
almost sci-fi type of storyline. That's not to say it doesn't work,
because it does. But I was really hoping Nolan would focus on the truth
behind magic, educating audiences in what really goes one when the curtain
closes. In the end the film teaches us two things - obsession can ruin a
life or lives, and those who win competitions don't always get what they want.
It's a very entertaining movie, and I feel like it merits repeat viewings to
truly appreciate it. Is it better than MEMENTO? No.
But it is a very interesting way to spend a few hours in the theater, whether
you like magic or not.
BIGFANBOY.com score - On a scale of
1 to 10, 10 being best, I give THE PRESTIGE an 8.
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