20 October 2006 | DICK STEEL
A Nutshell Review: The Prestige
I've said it before, but I'll say it again. Christopher Nolan can do no wrong. Teaming up again with his Batman Begins cast of Christian Bale and Michael Caine, and joined with the Scoop team consisting of X-Men's Wolverinie Hugh Jackman and Scarlett Johansson, the stellar (eye candy) cast already set tongues wagging as to whether they'll be able to live up to the hype of Nolan's long awaited movie directly challenging the other picture about Victorian magicians, The Illusionist. The Prestige is the third act of any magic trick, with the first and second acts being the Pledge and the Turn. And this movie lives up to its namesake to a T. The way the movie plays out, it's like a huge magic trick, with the audience waiting to see how it unfolds, getting the suspicion on how it's done, but yet sitting through it thorough engaged to discover how everything will be revealed and resolved. It tells the story of how two magicians, fellow apprentices turned unfortunate rivals, plod down the slow path of jealous obsession, revenge, and the deliberate attempts to go at lengths to steal each other's ideas, to go one up against the other, a fight in romance, life and the long held passionate drive to discredit each other. There are perfect explanations of the value of secrets, and how secrets can sometimes be used as tools for deceit. What I thought was valuable in the movie was the reinforcement of the notion of how "magic" actually worked. Besides the better understanding of the common body of scientific knowledge, things like having pretty assistants to distract, and having planted staff amongst the audience, somehow made me a sceptic to tricks and illusions, and try harder to spot at which stage had things undergone a sleight of hand. More importantly, it introduced me to the notion and importance of a loyal engineer behind the scenes who designs elaborate contraptions solely for the magician's use, and how having disloyal staff can indeed be detrimental to any leaks of secrets. And Michael Caine took on this engineering role as Cutter, responsible for assisting Rupert Angier (Hugh Jackman) with loyalty and conviction that they could, as a team, beat Christian Bale's Alfred Borden. I thought the cast in general were superb, with Christian Bale leading the charge. Hugh Jackman too showed that he could play a dark character, as the two leads tackled their characters' theme of sacrifice, arrogance, and ultimately redemption, especially for Rupert Angier. I thought he did what he did towards the end was a kind of penance to what happened in the beginning, hoping to kill two birds with a single stone, to exact the sweetest revenge he could possibly muster. What also was intriguing about the two lead characters was that there is no right or wrong, no hero or villain. It's always a shade of grey in what they do, and for Alfred Borden, I felt it's more for survival and the provision for family, which is a strong subplot running through the film. I just have to mention though, that Scarlett Johansson being Esquire's Sexiest Woman Alive, gets to play a flower vase role here as a magician's assistant, though her role as the pawn between the rivals added a little gravitas. The atmosphere was set up great, and so were the costumes and sets. The soundtrack was hauntingly mesmerizing, capturing the look and mood appropriately. Look out too for David Bowie's appearance as a Serbian scientist! I was floored by the deftness of how Nolan weaved and juxtaposed the non linear narrative so flawlessly. While the usual techniques is to use placeholders, or flashback sequences, colours etc, here, time is so fluid, but yet the audience will know precisely which era they're in, without being explicitly told, or working too much of the noodle. You just know, and it's just that feeling of being totally transparent with time. Even though the movie clocked in at slightly more than 2 hours, you don't feel its length at all. At the end of the movie, one quote popped into mind: Misdirection - what the eyes see and the ears hear, the mind believes. Quite apt to describe how things work out during the movie, or to describe in general, Nolan 's films so far. That added richness to lift the movie to a superior plane. Do yourself a favour, if there's one movie you absolutely must watch this week, then Prestige must be your natural choice. It's smart in delivery and slick in presentation. There is none other. P.S. Is it just me, or are notebooks a common feature in Nolan's movies?