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Are you watching closely?
A capsule film review of THE PRESTIGE by Camus
 
Rupert Angier (Hugh Jackman): "Which hat is mine?"
Nikola Tesla (David Bowie): "They are all your hats, Mr. Angier."
A moment of severe genre shifting (or is it?)
for a drama set in the 1890s.

 

Here at Cine Outsider, reviewers don't skimp on detail unless they have to sit through the unspeakable awful Shark Tale. But this will deliberately be a capsule review of a movie that is almost impossible to review without actually talking about the film – hence my (forgive the word-invention) capsularity. If I talk about the film I will reveal things and having things revealed is not how you want to approach The Prestige. It is a magician's act of a movie and a tremendous example of a film that suffers the more you know about it. But does it?

If you dip into and taste the wonderfully bizarre theories cast by IMDB posters, (after you have seen it, please) the film also demands repeated viewings to unravel multiple interpretations. There seems to be a hinge at the point of the viewer accepting a genre change in the last act, or seeing that hinge too as an illusion. I can say no more except see the movie! You'll be talking about it long after the credits have verticaled north. In fact, as I drove home, I was bombarded by a number of "Oh, if that was the case then he had to…!" and "But if he had to do that then that meant that...!" Not many movies plant that many post-timed thought grenades in your skull – all highly welcome.

The talented director, Christopher Nolan spans genres and film-making scale (from Memento to Batman Begins) and has an unusual predilection for time fractured drama. Memento was a tale told backwards and very successfully so. The Prestige is a tale told in many timelines but it is a supreme compliment to the director's skill that the various temporal strands in which his tale is unravelled are crystal clear. I bet there were a few nervous execs that felt that a subtitle or two might have helped but all credit to the film-makers. In fact even linearly told stories could benefit from this much clarity.

Two friends, both magician's aides in the late 1800s, vow to become magicians themselves. One, Rupert Angier (played charmingly by ex-blade fingered Hugh Jackman), is smooth, happily married and a natural born showman. He's the one of the two who sees the world and what the world wants to see very clearly. But if he lacks anything, it is the intellectual rigor that the success of his job requires. Fulfilling that task is Michael Caine's Cutter, the Jonathan Creek, if you will – the illusion builder. It's his explanation of the title that opens the movie. There are three parts to a magician's trick. The first, the Pledge, shows you something ordinary that probably isn't. The Turn is the act of magic itself (the disappearance, the drowning lady), the extraordinary act. The Prestige is the result; the effect on the audience and the resulting awe. The second magician, Alfred Borden (played by Christian Bale) is the more secretive, the more closed and definitely more Cockney. It becomes clear to anyone with a brain that Borden's secret is (as Sight and Sound said) insultingly obvious. But that's part of the magic (if you will). That very act of smug deduction is in itself the result of misdirection. Both men suffer horrific personal losses and both men wage war on each other via personal assaults (during performances) and the revelations of diaries stolen by each and read by both as the movie progresses.

In The Prestige, we are asked to believe that two men would go to the very limits of human behaviour to earn (or deceive to earn) that prestige. It is a tale about obsession and it all starts after a terrible accident – or was it an accident? Seriously, this is a movie that revels in its twists and turns and if you delight in cinema as a puzzle, you will devour The Prestige and love every throat contraction as it goes down...

The Prestige

USA / UK 2006

128 mins

director
Christopher Nolan
producers
Christopher Nolan
Aaron Ryder
Emma Thomas
screenplay
Jonathan Nolan
Christopher Nolan
from the novel by
Christopher Priest
cinematography
Wally Pfister
editor
Lee Smith
music.
David Julyan
production design
Lee Smith
starring
Hugh Jackman
Christian Bale
Michael Caine
Piper Perabo
Scarlett Johansson
Rebecca Hall
David Bowie
Christopher Neame
review posted
26 November 2006