Friday, March 30, 2007

MOVIE REVIEW: The Prestige

The Prestige

: PG-13 for violence, profanity

: Hugh Jackman, Christian Bale, Scarlett Johansson, Michael Caine, Piper Perabo, David Bowie, Rebecca Hall

by: Christopher Nolan

time: 2 hrs, 10 mins

The talented director of Memento comes up with another mind-bending, time-shifting thriller that takes the viewer on a fantastic voyage right up until a finale you'll either love or loathe

"Every great magic trick consists of three acts. The first act is called "The Pledge"; The magician shows you something ordinary, but of course... it probably isn't. 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, "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."
-Cutter (Michael Caine) to the audience at the beginning of the film

My only regret with watching The Prestige is that I did so on the final night we had it rented, because just as I had been told, after the climactic & controversial ending I immediately wanted to view it again.

I'm not sure why but it seems like most films I have seen recently have elicited extreme, polarizing reactions from critics and/or audiences, from Apocalypto to Babel and from 300 to Little Miss Sunshine; people either loved 'em or hated 'em, with very little opinion in between.

Christopher Nolan's latest mental masterpiece has that same kind of effect because many viewers don't enjoy (perhaps because they cannot follow) the director's preferred choice of non-linear storytelling, the same reason why many don't enjoy the work of Babel's Alejandro Gonzalez Innaritu.

Nolan doesn't utilize the "front-is-back" method he employed in his groundbreaking 2000 American film debut Memento, but he does tell the tale of two Victorian-era magicians much like a magically constructed house of cards, each layer integral to forming the foundation of the object before they all come toppling down in a complex heap. At the end of the trick it's up to the viewer to sift through the pile and put the pieces back in correct order.
Hugh Jackman plays against his usual hunky, hairy type (although he does bare his chest, much to the delight of the wife) as turn-of-the-century London magician Robert Angier, who comes up through the ranks performing with a wily old veteran Cutter (Caine) and fellow protege Alfred Borden (Nolan fave Bale.) The two young hotshots are both excellent magicians but also are complete studies in contrast, with the methodical, married Angier preferring safe and satisfying illusions while his cunning and risk-taking partner prefers to go for gasp-inducing grandiosity.

Early on a the trio are performing their show-stopping Underwater Escape trick, in which Angier's wife Julia (Perabo in a peek-a-boo performance) is tied up and dropped in a huge glass tank, hidden behind a curtain, and emerges from the water chamber less than a minute later. But thanks to a disastrous last-second decision by Bordon tragedy strikes, causing a rift between the two men that will soon turn into a very unhealthy obsession.

The pair go their separate ways, with Cutter siding with Angier and Borden settling down with his own wife, Sarah, who soon have a young daughter, Jess. Both men move forward with their careers, playing local theaters and halls in hopes of mastering an elusive trick that will put them over the top, while trying to make the other look bad in the process. Thus begins a game of cutthroat one-upsmanship that features fingers being blown off, birds massacred onstage and a shift in loyalties that could decide the others fate.

Borden develops the elusive magnificent trick first, called the Transported Man, in which he steps into a doorframe on stage and reappears through another door on the opposite side of the stage seconds later. Angier soon becomes obsessed with learning the secret to Borden's trick, despite Cutter insistence that it cannot be done without a double, and he sends his new assistant/love interest Olivia (Johansson, once again serving as eye candy and little else) over to Borden to infiltrate his act and learn the secret to the illusion.

Needless to say the plan backfires, although Angier does gain possession of Borden's sacred notebook, a potentially useful tool if he can figure out the code that will unlock the secrets behind the man's tricks. As his obsession gets darker Angier travels to America to meet with revolutionary scientist and alternate power source pioneer Nickola Tesla (rocker Bowie in a terrific cameo) and begs him to construct a teleporter machine just like the one he believes Borden is using in his act.

To tell much more of the intricate plot would give away too many of the surprises that lay in store in the film's final 30 minutes. Let's just say that Angier returns to the big stage with his magical new machine and plays to packed houses during a limited engagement run. When Borden sees that Angier has returned to prominence he sets out to bring him down once again, but when each learns the other's true secret it will prove to be the downfall of many involved, except the one you think.

The ultimate result of how Angier and Borden out-smart each other has been the subject of much debate on the message boards since this film was released last winter and with good reason. A large number of viewers feel the scientific aspect in a story of two masters of mystery & magic was way out of place and sullied their ultimate opinion of the film. Still many others, like myself, thought that the sci-fi element just added to the whole mystical, unbelievable aura of the film and gave it an extra edge over your straight up, run-of-the-mill magician stories.

But love it or hate it there is no denying that Nolan's latest is another example of brilliant, dark, thought-provoking film making. Every thing about the film resonates, from the stellar performances of every cast member to the jaw-dropping cinematography and costumes, and there is no doubt that whether you love or hate the ending you have to respect and admire the ambition of the work.

This is a deep, multi-layered tale of greed, obsession, loyalty & betrayal, love and hate and oh yeah, magic. Be sure to follow the trail of clues along the way, especially when Cutter addresses the audience. Then replay the movie and go onto IMDb to look for all the red herrings and obvious hints you missed along the way.

Because there's one thing I can guarantee you about the Prestige, love it or hate it, when you think you've got it figured out, you don't.
"Now you're looking for the secret... but you won't find it because you're not really looking. You don't really want to know the secret... You want to be fooled."
-Cutter to audience

No comments: