Obsession

by Alan Rapp on December 1, 2006

in Movie Reviews 

  • Title: The Prestige
  • IMDb: link

“Every great magic trick consists of three acts.  The first act is called ‘The Pledge.’  The magician shows you something ordinary, but of course it probably isn’t.  The second act is called ‘The Turn.’  The magician makes his ordinary something do something extraordinary.  Now, if you’re looking for the secret you won’t find it, that’s why there’s a third act called ‘The Prestige.’  This is the part with the twists and turns, where lives hang in the balance, and you see something shocking you’ve never seen before.”
 

The PrestigeThe film opens with Alfred Borden (Christian Bale) on trial for the murder of Robert Angier (Hugh Jackman), who was killed during his final performance.  The magician who gave both men their start (Michael Caine) is present, as witness, to tell the tale.

The film goes back in time, to tell the story of how the two got their start, their tragic marriages (with Piper Perabo, and Rebecca Hall), their competing affection for a magician’s assistant (Scarlett Johansson), and the event which caused the hatred and rivalry between them.

Director Christopher Nolan (Memento, Batman Begins) weaves a marvelous tale of illusion, half-truths, buried secrets, murder, and most of all obsession.  Like this year’s earlier entry The Illusionist the film involves the secrets of an illusion, and plot twists.  The Prestige succeeds where the other failed in that it doesn’t make the twists and secrets the whole story, instead it’s the obsession between the two men, not their secrets, which takes center stage.

The other difference is the tricks Angier and Bale look like illusions that would be done in the time period rather than bizarre movie camera tricks.  Here I must mention David Bowie who has a small but crucial role as Nikola Tesla, the acclaimed inventor who is locked in his own obsessive battle with Thomas Edison, and is commissioned to use science to create a new illusion for one of the magicians.  It’s great to see him back on screen.

The structure of the film, showing the main story in an extended flashback is somewhat awkward, but does fit into the film’s overall themes of showing you something from one angle, and then from another.  Still, I would have preferred the film a little more without the unnecessary introduction.

Jackman and Bale are excellent feeding off each other and showing how each individual success only brings more pain from the other.  Nolan’s choice to paint neither character as hero or villain, the two trade places so many times in the course of the film your head will spin, creates an opportunity to show them both as flawed, and allows you to root for whomever you please.

Perabo is stunning in her small role as Angier’s wife and Scarlett Johansson just sparkles on screen.  Rebecca Hall has a more demanding role as the loved but emotionally abused wife of Borden, but does well with the part.  And of course, Michael Caine is Michael Caine, ‘nuff said.

The Prestige is a battle of wits an emotions by two men whose hatred, pride, and need for revenge fuel a lifelong obsession.  You may guess some of the twists and turns, but the film’s best secret isn’t a plot twist or an illusion.  The film’s greatest secret is what is shows you – obsession and its just deserts.  Nolan has produced a great film that will appeal to both the popcorn audience and the art house crowd alike.  Now that, my friends, is a great trick.

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