Reviewed by: Sheri McMurray
|Featuring||Hugh Jackman, Christian Bale, Michael Caine, Scarlett Johansson, Rebecca Hall, Andy Serkis, Piper Perabo, David Bowie|
|Producer||William Tyrer, Chris J. Ball, Valerie Dean|
|Distributor||Buena Vista Pictures Distribution|
“Are You Watching Closely?”
The real secret of magic lies in the performance.
Presto! Was never once uttered in this dark tale of dueling magicians in the late 19th century. This word most connected with the act of magic, and perhaps connected by family to the word prestige mainly by being Latin in origin, is actually a declaration used in the game of Poker. Tradition has it that you say Presto whenever you win with pocket 5’s. You’re going into the gold plated deluxe suit with the winning hand and someone catches you out to beat you—the player has a straight flush when you already have the nut flush—Presto!
You’re sneaking around the corner and you are absolutely certain that you’ve escaped and are home free, when all of a sudden you’re grabbed from behind—Gotcha!
From the opening of “The Prestige” in the dewy mist of a cold Colorado morning, a mysterious pile of black top hats poking up at you from a grassy mountain side, to the finale in the crumbling, burning rubble of a once majestic theater, we never quite know what is going to happen around that corner.
As Cutter (Michael Caine doing a superb performance), engineer for magicians—a sort of conductor of the art of magic illusion, explains to the audience throughout the film, there are three parts to the trick:
“The Pledge” which is what we see; the scarf with nothing on either side, the magician’s lean and perfectly empty hand with sleeve rolled up to his elbow, a delicate crystal globe sitting empty on the red velvet tablecloth before you. He has gained the inquisitive attention of his audience.
“The Turn” at this point we are caught off guard as the scarf enwraps the crystal globe and in one perfect swipe, the scarf is plucked quickly away and the globe has instantly vanished! We catch our breath, our mind’s trying to make sense of what we’ve just seen. Where is that globe? To what part of the outer unknown could it have possibly gone?
“The Prestige” is the finale. The last act. The part of the trick where the audience is given back that which it has lost. The scarf floats lightly through the air, the audience so quiet one could hear a pin drop. As the magician, the man who’s now captivated you and knows you are glued to your seat holding your breath, lays that gossamer scarf over his lean and perfectly empty hand. The one attached to the arm with the sleeve rolled up to the elbow. Slowly turning his head, the magician looks deeply into every eye, his smile that of complete confidence knowing he will not let you down, he jerks the scarf away from that outstretched, clean, lean open, empty hand and to everyone’s astonishment the delicate crystal globe is now perched perfectly upon that once-a-second-ago empty hand. In a split-second gone into magic oblivion, now back and perfectly unscathed.
Every eye widens, every jaw drops, everyone catching their collective breath.
This is what “The Prestige” is all about and the trick works for the complete 130 minutes we sit in the darkened theater.
A darkened theater is the ideal place to watch this film as it adds to the mysterious snare and the breathless magic of it. All twist and turns. All characters not exactly what they appear to be. All of the plot a foolproof trick in three acts.
Robert Angier, AKA “The Great Danton,” (Hugh Jackman in a refreshing role well past his hairy X-Men werewolf) has a friendly sort of magician rivalry with Alfred Borden (Christian Bale who takes this part and develops it into tangled angst). Friends until a fatal on stage accident, during a trick akin to Houdini’s man-in-a-tank which also contributed to his untimely demise, kills Robert Angier’s lovely wife. Angier is devastated and blames Borden for her death, as he was responsible for tying her wrists in a special knot so that as she dangled bound and locked in the dangerous tank full of 50 pounds of water, she could escape unharmed.
Cutter, friends to both men, convinces Angier that with fresh and more colossal illusions, he can become the most renowned of all magicians. Together they are able to put together a crowd pleasing act. It helps that Cutter has employed the beautiful and eye diverting Olivia Wenscombe (Scarlett Johansson doing a pretty good English accent) who knows how to smile and show lots of, shall we say, chest.
Angier finds out that the finer, but less flamboyant Borden, is performing to a smaller less appreciative crowd across London town and decides to attend an act. Disguised and blending into the audience, Angier is astonished to find that Borden has the most marvelous illusion he’s ever seen called “The Transported Man.” Because of his hurt and blinding vengeance to pay Borden back for the death of his wife, Angier spends the rest of the story in a flamboyant attempt to steal Borden’s greatest trick and totally destroy his life.
As all magicians will tell you, the secret must never be divulged. There is a “code,” if you will, a circle of trust which all magicians keep unto one another. The treachery within “The Prestige” is this iron trust has found a crack through the professional rivalry of it’s main characters. And the crack is growing longer and ever widening throughout the entire film.
I will not go so far as to give away anything else about this deliciously spell-binding film, accept to say scientist and rival of Edison himself, Dr. Nikola Tesla was played wonderfully along the lines of “Dr. Who” by David Bowie. And to point out that once again Andy Serkis as Dr. Tesla’s assistant Mr. Alley, has shown he can do much more than digitally slink around as the “Lord of the Rings” Gollum character or as the giant digital ape in “King Kong.”
Because the plot is centered around vengeance, which belongs to The Lord alone (Romans 12:19) and is of a completely adult theme, children under age 16 should not see “The Prestige,” even though it is rated PG-13. There is a non-explicit reference to adultery between the Olivia character and both magicians. We see characters sustain significant bodily harm, drown and die, gunshots, fingers being cut off, hangings and a suicide. I did not hear any foul language or the use of The Lord’s name in vain, although one character does abuse alcohol. There are scenes which are violent, startling and some moments are even horrific. So, although I was entirely entertained, as a Christian there were some plot points I was repulsed by.
Director Christopher Nolan knows his way around the mysterious with “Batman Begins” and “Memento” under his belt. His brother Jonathan Nolan has done a satisfying job bringing “The Prestige” to the screen through his screenplay based on the novel by Christopher Priest. This is what we go to see a mystery for. We want a twist, we want to be given “the pledge” and be surprised by “the turn” and eventually shocked by “the prestige.”
A lot of people have been comparing “The Prestige” with another fine film about magicians “The Illusionist,” but I believe that is not fair. Even though we may find more than one movie out there about the same subject, let’s keep in mind that these are several different views, or angles, which focus on different aspects of the same subject. “The Illusionist” focused on the more upbeat side of the characters and what magic meant to them or the role it played in the fabric of their lives, with a more audience palatable “happy ending.” “The Prestige” has taken us to the darker side and asks us “are you watching closely?” The side, I believe, where we as an audience should be if we’re going to be drawn into the act—we should not know how the trick will end.
“The Prestige” is really of Shakespearian design filled with characters who have no way else to go but down. In the ill fated obsession to regain that which was lost, the whole story is an illusion and in the end no one wins. Yet, the secret at the end is ultimately for the viewer the best kept of all. A tingle went up my back as in the final scenes Borden was asked if he had anything else to say, and as the true magician he utters “Abra Cadabra.”
Perhaps the great Harry Houdini said it best: “It is still an open question, however, as to what extent exposure really injures a performer.”
One of those Hitchcockian-style thriller-mystery-criss-cross movies “The Prestige” deserves a second perhaps even third look. I, for one, am off to the darkened theater to take another peek. Once again I will sit and watch closely. I will purchase my ticket, sit planted squarely in my red velvet seat and yet another time be enchantingly enticed clear through to “The Prestige.”
Violence: Heavy / Profanity: Minor / Sex/Nudity: Minor
See list of Relevant Issues—questions-and-answers.