It's weird how sometimes,
for no apparent reason, two movies are made which seem to be about the same
subject. In the last year alone, we've had two Capote bio-pics, two
new versions of The Poseidon Adventure and now two movies looking at
the worlds of magic in the Victorian era. First there was The
Illusionist with Edward Norton, Paul Giammatti and Jessica Biel -- a
film which I must admit I've not seen, so I can't say how much it is really
similar to this second entry in the historical-magic fantasies.
I will say that I did enjoy
The Prestige, Christopher (Batman Returns, Memento) Nolan's look at two rival conjurors who enter a blood feud due to personal slights
and professional jealousy.
The Prestige is a
puzzle-box of a film, a perfect case of screenwriting as sleight-of-hand.
The movie is constantly calling your attention to the left hand while
pulling the trick with the right.
The movie starts with an
aging magician and builder of tricks (Michael Caine), who breaks down every
magic trick. There is "the pledge," which is just the dull setup.
That is followed by "the turn," the point in which the audience is shown
something extraordinary is coming from what they thought was mundane. Finally comes
prestige," the twist which ups the ante when the audience thought they had
already been fooled.
This little lesson of the
basics of magic not only explains the tricks, but also the twists and turns
of the story. The plot revolves around two magicians who had worked
with Caine's character.
Hugh Jackman plays Robert
Angier, a master showman, but who has trouble when it comes to creating
tricks. Christopher Bale is Alfred Borden, who has a brilliant mind
for illusions but no stage presence. Angier is sort of the Salieri to
Borden's Mozart in the tango of retribution. The two start a
long-standing rivalry when just starting out together, when one may be
partially responsible for the other's wife's death. However, the feud
long outlasts this tragedy, with both of them obsessively looking to outdo
and injure the other, willing to destroy anyone who gets in the way.
I don't think The
Prestige will go over well in the magic world. First of
all, the movie lets out the secrets of some of the tricks. While the
filmmakers probably thought it would be interesting to audiences as a
detailed look at the art and the lifestyle, a friend of mine who is a
magician assures me that giving up the mechanics of other magicians' tricks
is never okay.
Also, the ending is a bit
of a disappointment, greatly because it turns out the whole plot and even
the genre of the film turns out to be something much different than it was
claiming to be. (I can't go into greater detail, because I, also,
do not want to give away another's sleight of hand.) I know that
misdirection is the whole point of a good magic trick, but it still feels
like a bit of a cheat. However, even if the prestige fails to quite
work, the movie is still a pretty impressive deception. (11/06)
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Posted: October 22, 2006.