Monday, April 16, 2007

The Prestige

The Verdict: Professionally made, if slightly turgid. A great cast does well enough, but a range of dislikeable characters and a thoroughly self-important feel mean you'd be better off watching 'The Illusionist'.

The Rating:

Featuring a truly excellent cast, 'The Prestige' promises much, right from the first words of dialogue, where the tease of a plot twist is dangled before us by none other than Mr. Michael Caine. Michael informs us that the true magician delivers a trick to the audience in three parts. The pledge is a promise to the audience, a statement of fact. The turn is the trick itself, the moment where the illusion happens, but the Prestige.. well, that's when you deliver the 'wow', that's the moment when the audience reaction shifts into the realm of wonder.

So, right from the off, we're expecting a trick in the movie as well, that the plot will have a 'prestige' moment... now, I'm no expert in suspense, but I'm of the opinion that the best plot twists are.. and stay with me here... unexpected..? (Controversial - Ed) I didn't really appreciate a friend ruining the Sixth Sense for me, and I felt the same pang of muted anger when Sir Michael revealed an impending surprise to come. So, the language is a little couched, but the message is loud and clear.. and it's in the title for gawd's sake! .. 'Expect a big trick at the end people!' They may as well have called it 'The Big Plot Twist' for all the secrecy that surrounds the prestige moment of this movie.

Hmmm, maybe I'm getting a little cynical here. (Just a tad - Ed). There is a lot to like in this movie. Christian Bale is one of PCMR's favourite Hollywood actors (since 'American Psycho'), Hugh Jackman has shot up the league table since making 'The Fountain', and Christopher Nolan has got to be one of the more exciting directors working in Hollywood ('Memento', 'Insomnia' and 'Batman Begins' were all very good). Add into the mix the supporting heavyweights of a certain Michael Caine, Scarlet Johansson, Andy Serkis (looking decidedly human for a change) Piper Perabo and, um, David Bowie (Ziggy! The StarMan himself! - Ed) and you get the formula for a winning movie, right? Well, in PCMR's humble opinion, not exactly.

The story centres around the rivalry between Alfred Borden (Bale) and The Great Danton, also known as Robert Angier (Jackman). The two men start their careers together, but for a variety of reasons, each eventually becomes the nemesis of the other. Borden accidentally kills Angier's wife, and Angier responds by shooting Borden, all in the first fifteen minutes of the movie! So right from the off, you can see why they wouldn't be on each other's christmas card lists.

The rivalry hinges around the jealousy of these men for the situation of the other. While Borden is happily married - to the casual observer at least - Angier becomes steadily more bitter. Borden eventually develops a new trick, called The transported man, and Angier becomes obsessed with trying to figure it out.

I don't want to ruin the plot of 'The Prestige' for you folks, but the reveal of the trick to Borden's illusion is pretty stupid. I'm not one to normally say 'I could see that coming', but let's say that this 'twist' was telegraphed, signposted, highlighted in bold and luminous yellow on-screen, and then tattooed on Scarlett Johansson's cleavage in case you were distracted. Well... everything except that last part.

So Angier, unable to figure out this painfully obvious trick, (the big eejit - Ed) travels to California to meet a certain Mr. Tesla. Mr. Tesla is played by a certain David Bowie. David Bowie employs a certain accent in this movie which is like a cross between Shortbread Tin Scottish, and Harrison Ford Russian (remember that submarine movie?!). It is truly remarkable that Nolan allowed Bowie to use this accent, but he was probably in awe of the man, and we can forgive him that I suppose. (Don't be saying bad things about David Bowie now! - Ed) The thing is, Bowie's character is just so patently ridiculous, and I couldn't get past that as I listened to his Mittel-Europaische-Glasgow-Celtic twang. (At least Michael Caine had a good cockney accent - Ed)

(*Sigh*).. Anyway, I should add that the narrative of the Prestige is really quite unnecessarily complex. The movie begins with Borden (Bale) in prison reading Angier's (Jackman) journal, and cuts to a flashback. Then in the flashback, we see Angier reading Borden's journal, and off we go to another flashback. Nolan successfully manipulated the narrative of his story to creative effect with 'Memento', but in this instance it jarred with me. Why not start from the beginning Chris!? It worked with Batman!!

This is a professionally made movie, and the cast are all quite good (except for Bowie's accent, which of course I mentioned already.. but just in case you missed it, it was terrible). the film looks lovely, and the leading men all get to sport a variety of amusing fake beards quite regularly, which adds a little novelty value. Unfortunately, all the fancy window-dressing can't disguise the lack of a decent prestige moment to reveal to the audience in the end. Sadly, the twists and turns seemed drawn out, predictable, and a little silly for me. Add the fact that the two lead characters are pretty much miserable gits, obsessed with one-upmanship, and you get a movie that I found difficult to warm to.

In a 'celebrity deathmatch' between 'The Prestige' and 'The Illusionist', my money would be on The Illusionist to get medieval on Christopher Nolan's effort. Now that movie had pedigree. For me, this one was a little flattered by the critics, and, dare I say it, I would recommend caution before rushing out to watch it. Let's just say it's a little more Paul Daniels than Derren Brown.


brendangerous said...

I haven't seen The Illusionist, but I'd rate The Prestige as one of the best movies of last year.

Some say that the big reveal was a let down, but this movie wasn't about the tricks, it was about the rivalry between the two leads, and it was acted out brilliantly. I particularly liked that the story was being told as they mined each other's diaries for clues.

And hey, David Bowie!

pj said...

i too haven't seen the illusionist, but i thought the prestige was an enjoyable movie. i did find it a little too long though. i found myself reaching for a chocolate-suger fix midway through.

Clay said...

I have to agree that the time jumping was a little confusing. There were several moments when I was lost for a minute or so.

Other than that I did enjoy the movie a lot. I liked the big reveal. Unfortunately setting up the audience to think of it in terms of the reveal in a magic trick has an inherent flaw. The idea in magic is you are left wondering how the magician pulled it off. In a movie with a plot twist, the whole point is that you come to a complete understanding at the end of how everything fits together.

So in a magic trick, the prestige can occur in a mere second or two. The explanation necessary to a cinematic "prestige" must take place over a long enough period of time to put all the pieces together in a meaningful way.

Anonymous said...

Very nicce!

Anonymous said...

Where is admin?!
Hope for answer

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