The Prestige

“The Prestige” Review

Cast

Christian Bale…………….Alfred Borden
Hugh Jackman……………Robert Angier
Michael Caine…………….Cutter

Credits

Director……………………Christopher Nolan
Producers………………….Emma Thomas, Aaron Ryder, Christopher Nolan
Writers…………………….Jonathan Nolan, Christopher Nolan

Here’s another Christopher Nolan masterclass. Not often do you hear of directors who have never made a bad movie. In fact, you practically never hear of them. And yet, Nolan defies logic. Yes, his career has only just begun, but in the 7 directorial attempts he has made, 7 have been very good movies. In fact, 5 out of his 7 movies appear on IMDb’s Top 250 movies of all-time. Yes, that list is based only on user views rather than on critic opinions, but nevertheless, it is no mean feat. And ‘The Prestige’ is one of Nolan’s better movies.

‘The Prestige’ is set in the late 19th century, in both England and America. It is about two magicians, two friends, who are torn apart after one of them blames the other for his wife’s accidental death during a magic trick. They both become successful rival magicians as time goes by; all the while sabotaging each other’s performance, up until one of them performs the ultimate illusion. The other becomes obsessed with finding out the trick to this illusion, but this produces a series of tragic consequences.

The film starts with Cutter’s voice (played by Michael Caine), speaking about how a magic trick has 3 parts: (1) The Pledge, (2), The Turn, and (3) the hardest and most important part, The Prestige. During this monologue, the film cuts to Robert Angier (Jackman) performing one of his magic tricks, minus the third part, The Prestige. Alfred Borden (Bale) slips under the stage during this trick, and watches Angier fall into a ‘water escape tank’, and watches him drown. We then watch a court scene, in which Cutter tries to prove to the jury that Borden killed Angier.

After this, the movie jumps into ‘non-linear’ mode for pretty much the rest of its 130-minute runtime. Nolan helps us travel back in time and move into the present seamlessly, and it is one element that really makes this movie great. Like in ‘Memento,’ events do not happen in perfect chronological order. Most scenes take place during flashbacks, and occasionally jump to the present. The past includes Angier’s travels to America, as well as his and Borden’s endeavours in England. The scenes that happen in the present are almost completely made up of Borden’s prison scenes.

The way that Nolan makes this non-linear screenplay logical is through the use of diaries. While in prison, Borden receives Angier’s diary, and many of the scenes depicted in the movie are flashbacks from the diary. But this isn’t when the movie gets confusing. Nolan takes it a step further by showing, in the flashbacks, Angier reading Borden’s diary, which, in a way, produces the effect of a flashback inside a flashback. And this is when it becomes a little hard to follow. But the way Nolan has made this film, he makes it acceptable for us to not fully comprehend what has happened at what time, while still understanding the basic gist of the movie.

Scarlett Johansson and Rebecca Hall give us spot-on performances as the two main ladies of the film. David Bowie, who comes in a little later in the film, plays Nikola Tesla with energy and vigour. Bale and Jackman, give us excellent performances as the two magicians. However, the standout performer is Michael Caine, who plays Cutter perfectly, embracing the character flawlessly. From the character development and acting side, this is a pretty good movie, though not deserving of adjectives like ‘great’ or ‘brilliant.’ What makes this film deserve such titles is its art direction and cinematography, both of which it was nominated for at the Oscars. Nolan captures the setting perfectly, as well as the mood and tone of the rivalry of the two magicians. He gives us another trademark film-noir movie, and yet it doesn’t get old.

The way he has created the characters, and in particular the setting and mood, is something extraordinary. He captures the times wholesomely, and shows us what the people of the 19th century really thought of magic and illusions. While the story focuses on the two magicians, there is a parallel story going on between what some would call the ‘modern-day magicians.’ While Borden and Angier are sabotaging and topping each other’s tricks, much the same is happening between Thomas Edison and Nikola Tesla. While the old-style magicians are battling away, the modern-magicians are doing exactly the same thing. The film brings out the old and the new, and clashes them against each other, and Nolan does this with surprising accuracy and dynamism.

While this may be a movie about two magicians, I think it is more about the battle of the new and the old. It shows us both sides of it, with the magicians Borden and Angier representing the old, and Nikola Tesla and Thomas Edison representing the new. I believe this film is also about human nature, and what we would do for the ones we love, and the extents that we would go to, to become better than another. Rivalry is in our genes, and Nolan presents it to us vividly and, at the same time, truthfully.

Like the other movies I have reviewed, this is not for those people who want to just enjoy some action. This is for those of you who look for meaning in a movie, and enjoy thinking about the events that transpire rather than just being spoon-fed. No doubt, this movie has its exciting moments, though what it thrives on is its meaning and deepness. That’s why I believe it’s a better watch on the second viewing. Yes, on second viewing that big twist at the end no longer is a surprise, but on second viewing, we can truly understand the events which have happened, and we can look deeper into the film to find it full of meaning. At the end of the first viewing, you will feel more than a little confused, but as you have probably noticed, I like having to think about a movie long after it’s over. And this film will really make you think.

FINAL SCORE:

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