Tuesday, July 13, 2010

The Prestige

Written in participation with Bryce Wilson's Chris Nolan Blogathon at Things That Don't Suck...

After I saw this film yesterday and loved it for the most part, I realized I had to finally decide where I stood on Christopher Nolan. It's a bit of an awkward position because on one hand, he has made two of my favorite rewatch films, i.e. movies that would probably be better or at least as interesting in a different way if you see them again knowing fully what's going to happen, and also two of the best super hero films from a decade full of them. That right there is enough to make him one of my favorite directors, given my limited experience with some of history's great auteurs. There are a couple other things I have to acknowledge, though. Despite saying Memento would be a great rewatch film and having it on top of my list for best movies of the 00s... I haven't actually seen it more than once. And while he's made several great movies, I feel like his strength is pulling good work out of big name actors and writing good scripts, not necessarily shooting a scene. His work is consistent and competent, I'm just not sure he has enough style or ability to make a scene that isn't inherently compelling into a marvel like Scorsese or the Coens or Tarantino. Not that there's anything wrong with making good use of your cast and director of photography to put a brilliant story on the screen, it's just something I've thought about.

But yeah, the movie... it's really good. Strong thematically, as it's about two magicians who become rivals over time, and the film itself is mostly a magic trick as much as anything that happens on the screen. It basically invites you to try to figure it out before the two hour running time is over, and while I managed to puzzle out at least one aspect of its mind bending conclusion, there were still major pieces that managed to surprise by the end. Movies with twists can end up disappointing when you watch them again, if the twist isn't woven into the fabric of the entire story. Twists should leave you kicking yourself every time the movie basically tells you the secret, and it should tell you about a hundred times before it actually tells you. The Prestige definitely works on that front, with the sort of details littered around that make you slap your forehead shouting "oh!" hours after you've seen it, lying in bed. One unexpected factor is that the movie mostly presents itself as a plausible if extraordinary story, but there is one key plot element, introduced by Nicola Tesla himself (played by David Bowie, who is so perfect in the role that I somehow missed that it was him), which is impossible and you're just going to have to accept to enjoy the movie. But if you can, it's worth it.

And while I do have questions about Nolan's ability to carry a film, The Prestige is definitely well shot and well acted. Christian Bale and Hugh Jackman are both good as the main magicians, neither quite filling the role of protagonist or antagonist. They are both driven and tormented, and neither comes out for the better as the result of their rivalry. Jackman's American accent is a bit better than Bale's English one, but there were only a few times that it stuck out to me as false. Otherwise, they both do strong, passionate work that sells the unreality of what they're doing. Michael Caine is great as always in the mentor role for both men, Scarlett Johansson is again competent as a stage assistant who gets caught between the two men, and Andy Serkis manages to sell another slightly unusual character as Tesla's right hand. One of the main strengths of the story is how it's told, with a non-linear style that gives you information when you need it, and helps with the whole image of the film as an elaborate illusion by the filmmakers. For a movie about a couple of guys who like to do magic tricks, it's a pretty amazingly dark story with some pretty brutal implications, definitely worth seeing for any fan of films that make you think.

1 comment:

CMrok93 said...

When it comes to challenging an audience, as well as being highly entertaining, Nolan is always best, and this is one of his best showings. Check out my review when you get a chance: http://dtmmr.wordpress.com/2010/08/06/the-prestige-2006/ Great Review!