Monday, July 23, 2012

The Prestige

Truly Great Films
Edition #4

An original story starring Hugh 
Jackman and Christian Bale
...with a fantastic performance 
by Michael Caine

Seriously, why is this movie 
overlooked by Nolan fans?

First thing first. 

The Prestige - adapted and directed by Chris Nolan - was released in October of 2006, roughly a year after Batman Begins

The Prestige received superb reviews, but was largely ignored by American audiences, earning most of its money overseas. 

I must point out that this a very cerebral film, basically Inception times ten.

The Prestige also garnered nominations for two Academy Awards...Best Art Direction and Best Cinematography. 

Well, why has it been mostly forgotten, then?

This may have been in part due to the fact that it was competing against another magician-themed film, The Illusionist, released in August of 2006, starring Edward Norton and Paul Giamatti. I saw both in the theater, and although The Prestige is a little slower than The Illusionist, and that it uses non-linear story-telling - it is a far superior film.

I'm going to let you in on a little secret here. Michael Caine is far more satisfying in The Prestige than he is in the Batman trilogy. 

That being said, David Bowie is an absolute scene-stealer playing the mad scientist Nick Tesla. Seriously, Bowie has to be seen to be believed. 

And a quick word about Bale concerning his temper. Like Russell Crowe, who cares? These guys are among the finest actors on the planet...and naturally, they are perfectionists. 

Besides, as long as Bale keeps delivering like he has been, he can run around naked screaming at the top of his lungs in Central Park for all I care.

You handsome man, you

On to the film...

The movie opens with one magician being imprisoned for the murder of another. Then it backs up and explains why.

Christian Bale is Alfred Borden, a working class magician in late 19th century London. He is in a contant competition of one-upmanship with Robert Angier, played with aplomb by Hugh Jackman. 

The two men share the love interest of stage assistant Olivia Wenscombe, played by Scarlett Johansson. Angier had accidently killed his wife in a water cell act, and blames Borden for the incident. 

I am going to stop here and make a quick observation. Piper Perabo played Jackman's wife, and I sorta wished she'd had the role given to Johansson. 

Yes, you're handsome, too

During the course of the film, Bale marries and has a daughter, infuriating Jackman even further. They sabotage each others acts, and generally behave like schoolchildren.

I mentioned Michael Caine, who plays John Cutter - loyal friend and mentor magician to Bale. His character is central to the plot and ending, so I won't say anymore. 

Rather than describe the convulted plot, I am going to tell you that this film boils down to a love story...a heart-rending tale of what a man is willing to go through for the love of his daughter. 

Bale brings that man to life, and the characters that support the role are icing on the cake.

This is a film that has to be seen to be appreciated. All of the acting is top-notch and Nolan's camera work is second to none. I enjoyed the look and feel of industrial age London, far more than I did with Sherlock Holmes.

The story is engaging, if not a little crazy in the backasswards way it is told. Sometimes, though, if it works...then dammit, it just works.

I can't reveal the backstory about Nick Tesla without ruining the surprise ending. But I can say that David Bowie is beyond being just a good casting choice. He's an awesome casting choice.

The Prestige unfolds to to viewer with a method of story-telling called 'nonlinear narrative structure'. 

As a writer, I know that it is extremely difficult to get this right - it's a true balancing act between making sure the audience can follow the story and telling that story in such a way that the surprises just keep falling into your lap. 

Hats off to those that get it right, because as much as this method can add to a tale, it can also send right into the garbage heap.

In normal narrative structure, the film is laid in three acts: setup, conflict, and the resolution. During the story arc, your characters develop as the face the challenges presented to them. 

When the story is told in a nonlinear way, however, all of that is thrown right out the window.

David Bowie as Nick Tesla

In The Prestige, the narrative is purposefully disjointed, to keep the audience on their toes. 

The saving grace, I think, is the satisfying ending - where Nolan ties all of the threads together with some truly heart-warming moments.

Honestly, it doesn't matter how friggin' good the camera work is, how well the actors performed or how cool the effects are if the movie goers leave scratching their heads. 

I think, judging by the box office receipts, quite a few may have been confused by the unusual story-telling, and relayed that to their friends. I left the theater awed, and bought the DVD as soon as it came out. But I know of professional reviewers that still haven't seen this film, even after six years.

Nolan, I think, may be a little ahead of the curve. 

It certainly shows in his Batman films. But The Prestige may just be a good example of how far ahead of his time he may be.

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