Reel Matt

This blog started as my movie marathon — watching a movie a day for a whole year — and has continued as a place for me to write reviews about movies, TV, and various other items.

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The Prestige

Film #169

THE PLOT

The rivalry between two magicians is exacerbated when one of them performs the ultimate illusion.

Year 1, Day 169

BEFORE: After a dinner break and some packing for my trip home tomorrow, the marathon and the second part of today’s magic double-feature continues with Christopher Nolan’s The Prestige. This is actually the only film by Nolan I have not seen yet so besides the magic element of the film, I’m also excited to see the last film of Nolan’s left on my list. The Illusionist, which came out a few months before The Prestige in 2006, had a few flaws to it but for the most part was enjoyable to watch. I cannot wait to see how Nolan does with his entry.

AFTER: The thing I like the most about Christopher Nolan’s films is his story structure. Something Nolan has done before (see: Memento, Inception) is show one of the final scenes but show it out of context. When you see it the first time you think you know how the film will end and you think for the rest of the movie, “How is he still going to make it interesting.” Each time Nolan has done this, he has succeeded. After watching The Prestige you could make the argument that Nolan is a magician himself and follows the three parts to every magic trick described at the beginning of this film: the pledge, the turn, and the prestige.

The pledge: the magician shows you something ordinary. I don’t know if ordinary is the right word in the case of The Prestige (“self-explanatory” would probably work better) but that’s beside the point. The pledge as I said before is showing the viewer the end of the film. Nolan shows us Angier (Hugh Jackman, last seen in Rise of the Guardians) performing an extravagant trick on stage proceeded by him falling through a trap door and locked in a tank of water while Borden (Christian Bale, last seen in The Dark Knight Rises) watches. Seemingly obvious and an end to a film that wouldn’t be all the shocking or original. But that doesn’t matter; what matters is Nolan has grabbed your attention and has succeeded with the pledge.

The turn: where the magician takes the ordinary and makes is extraordinary. If there is any part of the film I have a complaint about it’s this second act. The Illusionist which I watched earlier today had a similar problem - the beginning and ending of the film were fantastic but the middle lacked the same entertainment value. In The Illusionist the central story was love between the magician and a Duchess. In The Prestige there is still love interests involved, but the central story revolves around these two competing magicians (Jackman and Bale) trying to outdo one another. Nolan does a better job at creating interesting and relatable characters but there’s still a sense of a lull. I think the reason for this is due to the beginning and ending. Nolan does such a great job with the setup and the payoff that the middle, where a lot of interesting and important story and character development happens, is time that you just want to pass so you can find out what really happens and the meaning behind everything.

And finally there is the prestige: when the impossible becomes possible and the trick is completed. As per my usual policy, I will refrain from discussing too many details here for fear of spoiling the surprise. But I will say that, like Memento and Inception among others, Nolan does the impossible by making the ending shocking. By the end the same scene you saw in the beginning means something completely different and you will be puzzled at how the pieces to the trick were in front of you the entire time, you just weren’t watching closely enough.

But more than just the structure of the film which I enjoy so much, there are many other great elements to The Prestige. One element was the magic itself. In The Illusionist I complained about a few of the tricks being very clearly CGI instead of practical effects. In The Prestige if any of the effects were CGI they were not noticeable at all. It seemed as though Jackman and Bale performed all the tricks themselves in an incredibly convincing way. And speaking of Jackman and Bale, the acting in this film was extremely good. Not only did they do a fantastic job as the leads, but the supporting cast was also incredibly good at moving the film along, Michael Caine and Andy Serkis (in a rare non-performance capture role - see: The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey) being among the best.

Looking at The Prestige by itself, it’s a great film. The story is told in a masterful way by Nolan who brings his usual mystery and intrigue to the table. In addition to that the actors, lead by Jackman and Bale, do a convincing job as the rival magicians and whose animosity towards one another is vital to the central story. I wouldn’t hesitate recommending this film to anyone, especially aspiring magicians like myself or fans of Nolan who will see his style throughout the film. Compared to The Illusionist I’d say The Prestige is clearly the better film. However The Illusionist has a different focus and a great ending/reveal all it’s own and I wouldn’t count it out. Both films are entertaining and captivating in their own way. The Prestige just happens to align more with my tastes.

RATING: 5 out of 5