Are you watching closely?
By: Rianne Hill Soriano
Starring: Hugh Jackman, Christian Bale, Michael Caine, Piper Perabo
Directed by: Christopher Nolan
Director Christopher Nolan has handed himself a difficult task of tackling a complicated story about two cold, central figures. Indeed, the complex premise of the film ‘The Prestige’ becomes a good escalating battle of wits presented the ‘Nolan way.’ A dazzingly interesting narrative about two rival magicians from turn of the century London, ‘The Prestige’ revolves around the lives of Rupert Angier (Hugh Jackman) and Alfred Borden (Christian Bale). They start a friendship that eventually turns into a rivalry after Rupert’s wife gets killed in a magic trick that has gone wrong. Since then, they start trying to discover each other’s secrets, and ruin each other’s tricks along the way. The story escalates further when Alfred discovers the ultimate trick of the ‘Transported Man,’ a trick that will make Rupert lose his mind just to decipher Alfred’s ultimate secret.
Dark, increasingly elaborate, complex, convoluted, contrived, and full of twists and turns, Nolan’s dark vision for ‘The Prestige’ becomes a workout for the audience’s mind. Filled with its labyrinth of conflicting ideas amidst the sincerest human emotions coming from the characters, the film is a mind-tickler that makes the viewer engaged with the story as s/he tries to penetrate its elegantly Victorian noir presentation to find out the film’s own ultimate trick. Underneath the film’s physicality lies some mundane truths about love, life, career, sacrifice, and revenge. The film may be set during the Victorian days, but the universal issues it exposes about rivalry and obsession make people relate to it very well. The film’s plot-heavy story and striking moments either leaves the viewer exhilarated or disturbed for many possible reasons.
Technically, the film is nothing less than brilliant. The time period portrayed is taken to perfection. The costumes and art direction are splendid. The effects look believable and seamless. The cinematography is stunning and validating. Indeed, the auteur in Nolan really surfaces in every film he makes.
Christopher Nolan and his brother Jonathan Nolan have collaborated on a powerful script with its non-linear pace complemented by the film’s impressive visual and aural composition. Many films become under-written or half-developed, but ‘The Prestige’ is the opposite – it’s almost too clever, that consequently, some people do not get to appreciate its entirety anymore. This film has its own audience really. Some may find it a cult classic of impressive cinematic magic; and yet, some may find it a ponderous tale that promises much, but in the end, delivers surprisingly little.
Those who find fulfillment in this kind of film can enjoy a great deal from it being a twisty thriller presented in a not so common ground – the dark and intelligent treatment Nolan is known for. They see an exemplary story with multi-faceted levels of artistry. From its sheer finery and elegant details both inside and out, it reaps value out of the question, ‘How did they do that?’ – figuring out how Nolan has done the rare magic trick to come up with the compulsively absorbing ‘The Prestige.’
Meanwhile, those who want light and easy stories may find a bit of a grind to it. They may tend to feel that the story loses its target with a wobbly second half and a grand finale not able to compensate. And others might think that despite the good acting and direction, the film’s ending seems feeble that it tends to render the entire movie losing much of its value – it entertains for a while, but it grows increasingly desperate as it reaches the third-act explanations.
The script is tough and filled with stunning twists. However, some people may criticize its ending. It’s not that the film is bad, it’s just that it doesn’t entertain in a completely feel good way. Some may find it not entirely or ultimately amusing and entertaining as many classic cinematic favorites, but basing it from a number of film theories, along with the film’s thematic and stylistic presentation, and technical style and treatment, it actually delivers well. But then again, ‘The Prestige’ is not a film for everyone. It is either ‘to be loved/enjoyed’ or ‘to be hated/unvalidated.’
The main weakness of the film is that the key characters seem too single-minded. It seems to lack a bit of gray areas. The said concern may be just toned to a minimum, but it’s still a weakness to be noticed on such an intelligent film about deception and rivalry. Uplifting the characters a bit further towards perfection could have avoided the barrage of half-baked revelations – that could have been more satisfying for both those seeking for deep and artsy values and those who are seeking for purely light entertainment.
Personally speaking, though I am a Nolan fan and I have seen a fairly good deal for this film, I have not completely looked up to it mainly because of one thing: I was able to predict its last two twists. I have related a bit of it with a French film I have seen a couple of months ago entitled ‘The Perfume of the Lady in Black’ (Le Parfum de la Dame en Noir) directed by Bruno Podalydes – a film based from the novel of Gaston Leroux about concealed identities and the mysteries of finding one’s identity and belongingness.
The performances are largely good. Christian Bale and Hugh Jackman give out powerful performances. One man is confident and cool amidst the hustle and bustle of his struggling family and career life, while the other one is just losing his senses for his career, his only life. Getting into the lighter side of things, one may jokingly ask this question: ‘Who would win in a fight between Batman and Wolverine?’ But seriously, the great thing about ‘The Prestige’ is that it builds the characters Rupert Angier and Alfred Borden as the rival magicians and not the superhero images tattooed on the actors personas. Moreover, the entire cast delivers very well, too. The film features a solid performance from Michael Caine as Cutter. So goes with Andy Serkis as Alley and David Bowie as Nikola Tesla. Scarlett Johansson as Olivia Wenscombe provides another stellar performance as well. So goes with Rebecca Hall as Sarah. The short screen time of Piper Perabo as Julia McCullough also works well. And Samantha Mahurin is effective with her little girl character as Jess.
When you are watching this film, you’d better be watching really closely. As the movie has reiterated both in its dialogues and its actual form, every magic trick consists of three acts: ‘The Pledge,’ ‘The Turn,’ and the ‘Prestige.’ And if you’re taking the film’s first words to your heart – Are You Watching Closely?’ – you’ll probably get to appreciate the film, and probably get really rewarded by it.