After seeing the trailer for The Prestige, I knew I wanted to go see that movie. It’s got a great cast and a seemingly intriguing story. Rivalry, magic, and mystery — it just doesn’t get better than that. And I’m happy to say, unlike numerous experiences in which my high expectations ruin the films for me, it is probably if not definitely the best movie I’ve seen in 2006 (Yes, I’ve been slacking off).
In The Prestige, two apprentices of magic acts, Robert Angier (Hugh Jackman) and Alfred Borden (Christian Bale), were constantly competing with each other to be the breakout magician. Angier loved the art of magic and had sacrificed his fortune to be a magician, while Borden lived and breathed magic, which was no less than an obssession for him. In a performance gone wrong, Angier’s wife, who was working as an assitant in the act, died, and Angier felt that Borden was fully responsible. He set out to ruin Borden’s thriving career, and Borden repaid the favour. When Borden became happily married and invented an amazing act called "The Transporting Man," Angier was determined to find out the secret behind it. And it soon became an obssession of his own. Their old prop designer, Cutter (Michael Caine) and a new assistant (Scarlet Johansson) got in the mix, and the magical act soon turned into a mystery with intertwining clues, leading to the big finale.
Behind The Prestige was the trio from Batman Begins. Director Christopher Nolan once again succeeded in bringing a dark, mysterious look to the movie, and it worked wonders with the theme. Teaming up with him again, Bale and Caine were both playing roles that seemed tailor-made for them. Bale was the incredibly talented and dedicated Borden, whose obssession often made him look a little crazy and cruel. Caine’s Cutter was the rock, loyal and sensible, holding Borden and Angier in check…most of the time. Jackman’s Angier scored high on the sentimental scale. The audience were led to sympathize with him, rooting for him to bring down the "evil" Borden in this The Count of Monte Cristo tale. However, this was where the movie triumphed over other mediocore movies. At the end, we had come to realize that no one was purely the villan or the victim in the story. This was a story about revenge, and later, obssession, either could change a man so much, leading to a tragic outcome. The script also devoted a lot of time to build up the characters through their actions, which in turn justified their ends. Angier was unwilling to share the spotlight, and his obssession of revenge was parallel to Borden’s of his craft. I know I have stressed this point to death now, but three-dimensional storlyline and characters are indeed what makes a movie great.
In a film about magic, the brilliance of Nolan and the writers (Nolan and his nephew, Johnathan Nolan) shined, as they incorporated the theme of the prestige into the movie perfectly. At the beginning and the end of the film, we were told that every magic trick consisted of three acts. These three parts made up and played out through the movie. As the act unfolded before our eyes and the secrets are revealed, we discovered the "trick" but became uncertain about the characters and their intentions. In retrospect, you would realize that all the clues were there if only you looked for them. But like any masterful magician, The Prestige led us to stare at the sleight of hand and ignore the secret. Some people may scoff at the secret behind Angier’s Transporting Man. But, since films are truly magic tricks of our era, as Cutter says in the movie, "Now you’re looking for the secret… but you won’t find it because you’re not really looking. You don’t really want to know the secret… You want to be fooled."
- This movie was based on a novel of the same title by Christopher Priest. According to IMDb, Sam Mendes (director of American Beauty and Jarhead) had shown interest in adapting the novel for the big-screen, but Priest insisted that Nolan direct the film, based on his love for both Following (1998) and Memento (2000).
- All photos © TOUCHSTONE PICTURES