The Prestige (Metro-Goldwin-Mayer, PG-13)

The film features pitch-perfect performances from a varied troupe of actors, led by another brilliant performance from Christian Bale.

 

film_prestigeThe Prestige is a brilliant, atmospheric drama about love, revenge, and the blindness of obsession from director Christopher Nolan (Batman Returns, Memento). Set in Victorian-era London, the film stars Christian Bale and Hugh Jackman as junior members of a magician's stage act. After a tragedy dissolves the act, each man strikes out on his own to find fame with the perfect trick and to sabotage the other for real and imagined wrongs. Their obsession and dangerous one-upmanship destroys their relationships, their acts, and finally, their identities. The story has a Shakespearean feel with its universal themes of obsession and all-consuming revenge with Nolan brilliantly employing some of the Bard's old tricks: decoys, imposters, and double-crosses.

The film features pitch-perfect performances from a varied troupe of actors, led by another brilliant performance from Bale. Jackman plays Bale's rival, a generally decent man undone by his obsession with uncovering Bale's secret. Scarlett Johansson is here in a supporting role as the assistant caught between them with Michael Caine as the practical engineering man behind the tricks. Finally, David Bowie appears as Industrial Age shaman Nikola Tesla.

The business of magic and magicians gives Nolan and the actors a great deal of emotional and dramatic range. Bale's wife demands to know the magician's secret. Grudgingly he obliges and tells her the trick. Visibly disappointed, she learns that understanding the trick destroys it. Ironically, she would later demand of her husband that they have "no secrets" between them. What are these men, what is their trade without secrets? Nothing.

This was my first magical movie experience in quite a while. For yet another year, moviegoers have had to wait until the fall for the decent films to come out. This has many reasons, few of them worthy of creating the cinematic wasteland that the summer has become. However, a fall release date only helps add to the atmosphere of The Prestige. Stepping into the dark theater from the cool, crisp fall air and into Nolan's well-executed Victorian world helps the audience surrender to the story. I found myself on the edge of my seat late in the film to see if I had found the secret behind each magician's trick as well as the key to the excellent screenplay penned, as with Memento, by Nolan and his brother.

Nolan is an abrupt, unforgiving filmmaker who plunges headlong into his story and woe betide the audience member who can't keep up. While this trait of his only adds to the purposeful confusion in Memento and the murky dealings in Insomnia (leaving the well-known mythology and characters in Batman Returns unaffected), it can leave viewers of The Prestige wanting to rewind and confirm just which waistcoated or bodiced character was addressing which. However, it does help build the suspense, keeping the audience slightly ill at ease and questioning just what is going on.

This film forms a quartet of sorts with three other forthcoming releases: Alfonso Cuaron's Children of Men, Darren Arnofsky's The Fountain, and Guillermo Del Toro's Pan's Labyrinth. Each director is one of today's most competent and exciting filmmakers. Each film (apart from Del Toro's) represents a new direction for the filmmaker. And, each is being pushed strongly by their parent studio. If we want to continue to see quality films produced and put into wide release, then we need to reward these films with our dollars, if they prove worthy.

While the serious film season has begun, don't allow The Prestige to get lost in the shuffle. Darker and more moving than any magician's trick and twice as compelling, the actors and director of The Prestige do not disappoint.

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