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The Prestige

Film Four Stars

The Prestige has been a film I've had very high on my watch list for some time, with Christopher Nolan scripting (along with his brother Jonathan Nolan) and directing Christian Bale and Hugh Jackman, as well as support from Michael Caine and Scarlett Johansson, there was a lot to attract you to the film. All this without mentioning the intriguing plot, and the superb images that had been coming out of the marketing.

So I was very excited to see the film, but when I finally did there was a slight feeling of disappointment, and yet I'd love to see it again. It's a slightly confusing feeling, much like that of seeing a magicians trick and then discovering how they did it.

Prestige_Poster.jpgOnce again, many thanks to the good people of Edinburgh's Ocean Terminal Vue Cinema for helping me write these reviews for the site. They're a great bunch over there and I honestly can't sing the cinema's praises enough, or their superb hotdogs...of which I just have to partake just about every visit!

I did expect to be dazzled and confused by this film. We had already seen from the trailers and Nolan speaking about it that it mirrored the idea of a magician's trick, The Pledge, The Turn and of course, The Prestige.

I read in The Guardian paper today that as the film opens Michael Caine tells you to watch closely, they advise not to. It's better if you don't because then you'll not guess what the various Prestige moments are through the film, and they are right.

For the major twists in the film I find there's not enough of The Turn in each of them, there's not enough misdirection, especially having been shown or given the answers earlier in the film.

Yet I have to disagree with them in that the film isn't enjoyable. Yes I guessed the twists before they appeared (the more films you see the easier it becomes to second guess them) but for once this didn't actually spoil the moment of the film.

Often when you guess the twist before the reveal you find yourself disappointed and the film loses pace and impact. Yet although I guessed the major twists, saw them coming, and was spot on, I found I wasn't disheartened with the film. Yes the actual reveal moments were lessened, but because I was so engaged with these characters I found I was more intent on seeing their fate rather than the actual reveal itself. So the film kept strength despite that.

There's no denying though that the reveals should have been harder to spot and the misdirection better. Having seen Saw III this weekend I've just seen the perfect example of misdirection in a film, and that is how Prestige should have been played.

What makes the journey so good is the continual battle between the two magicians, the effortless way in which the film passes back and forth between characters and times, and the small surprises and twists along the way.

One of the greatest things I enjoyed about the film was anticipation. At times in the script we would be shown our own Pledge, and from there you could feel the tension and excitement rise as we saw the Turn carry through to the Prestige. All these more satisfying moments were delivered through the smaller twists of the tale, and not the major plot defining moments.

These moments aside the script is very well written and the lives of the two warring magicians are great to watch. Nolan not only delivers a strong and imaginative script, but he also creates some wonderfully filmed moments.

The sets and locations are superb, providing a very realistic period setting that doesn't overpower the viewer with the time period. We're also treated to some visually strong scenes, particularly those of the freezing fog in Colorado Springs, Nolan really knows how to visually present a film and throughout he retains a darkness that matches the two lead characters.

For me the star of the film is Caine. His performance is tender and open, and at times utterly commanding. He just takes over the screen so effortlessly and shows that he belongs there without question. Part of the power of his role is that he is the balancing point between the two obsessive magicians, the voice or reality and reason, and the moral right.

However that does raise another interesting point that I read in the Guardian review. They pointed out that the film has questionable morals throughout, and there is no moralistically correct view or character. I think that Caine is, but even he makes an incredibly moralistic choice that perhaps betrays his balanced character.

I think this is perhaps a strong point of the entire film. No one is moralistically correct or does anything other than remain totally self absorbed and focused on their obsessions and self betterment. This is real life and real people. Even those that believe they are doing the right thing and being moralistically true are actually standing in judgement of others and hurting them.

Hugh Jackman plays his character extremely well. I find that when I see him onscreen I get that feeling of the old movie stars, where they could play any character, and with a change of clothes and slight turn of accent be convincing enough that you don't consider them to be the same character that you saw them play last year. I don't know what this quality is, but Jackman holds it and without question you are taken into his character.

Bale is good, but lacks the same quality that Jackman portrays in the film. I found it extremely hard to get through his West End geezer accent and the way his mouth would over pronounce vowels. I couldn't let go of that and latched onto it for the duration of the film, and it became very distracting.

However he, and Jackman, give a strong performance of men obsessed with being a success, but for entirely different reasons, and that's something that comes through in their performances. Bale has a much darker edge to his obsession, and it's quite plain to see it's for greed and glory, however Jackman has quite a different approach to his obsession, one which is revealed much later in the film.

I have to say that Johansson was more eye candy than anything, and although she had a few moments to provide some strength, she was very much a prop in the whole piece. However her English accent is astoundingly convincing.

There's a big surprise in the casting though, and not just Andy Serkis giving a strong performance as Tesla's right hand man, no it's Tesla himself played by David Bowie. I thought his character was performed very well, with a nice superiour air and aloofness to him. I've never really liked Bowie's performances before, they've always seemed like someone really trying too hard to act, yet here his character was perfect for him and he played down his performance.

Overall this was an enjoyable film, but I felt that Nolan didn't ultimately succeed in his misdirection through the middle of the film, if he had then the final reveals would have been more surprising and shocking rather than confirmations.

That said, because the story was so clever, engaging and well presented I did find that I was more interested in the fate of the characters than the slight failure in the ultimate Prestige moments. At these moments I also got the feeling of recognition and almost respect for the journey to this point that the cleverly written script and well delivered film gave us.

Again, it's more the journey and the smaller pieces of the puzzle that are the impressive parts of the film. Looking back at it now the beauty of the script is in the many layers and self references, and understanding that the tricks themselves were not just the final payoffs, but the great lead up to them. I really could imagine myself going back to watch this film a few more times and still finding something clever hidden within it.


Trailers
Magicians
It's almost poking fun at Hollywood that these two comedians famous for Peep Show on UK's Channel 4 are tackling a film of a similar vein to Prestige. Two rival magicians fall out over a failed guillotine trick and are forced to confront the issue with each other. Sound familiar? Well the trailer was rather amusing, and in Peep Show style it's the character's reactions that are so amusing. The way they presented the trick of resting one of them on the point of a sword was almost as funny as when it goes disastrously wrong. There's a certain type of humour to be found in this one, and the trailer says it all.

Perfume: The Story of a Murderer
This is a repeat of the short trailer we've seen of the young woman slicing fruit as the strange man creeps up behind her and starts sniffing her scent unnoticed. There's not much to it and I can't help but think they'd be better off showing the full trailer.

Apocalypto
This looked like a different trailer to the one we've seen online already, and it tells more of the tale and shows off some excellent camera work from the film. Gibson just keeps it moving, and the trailer promises a lot of pace and tension from the film.

Blood Diamond
Same trailer as before, and it's starting to look a little tarnished from the first viewing.

Casino Royale
Here's a trailer that doesn't seem to dull with repeated viewing. It's high octane and packed with action and strong looks. Never mind that this time it's Bond emerging from the water in his swimming costume! I honestly can't wait to see this film.


Edinburgh's Ocean Terminal Vue Cinema
UK IMDB Film Details





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Comments

Nice review, the flick was really enjoyable I agree. (I liked it a lot more than The Illusionist.) Nolan tends to satisfy, and even though not all of his films are amazingly memorable, he knows how to put on a good show.

Thanks Ryan. I haven't seen the Illusionist. To be honest I'm a bit concerned about all the magician films coming out as Hollywood leaps on an idea and wrings it dry.

I loved this film, why did I wait too long to see it! It's all Daniel Craig's fault! ;D

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