11/08/2006

The Prestige...

“It’s not the secret that’s worth anything. It’s the trick you use the secret for.”

The Prestige
Running Time: 2hr 15min
Directed By: Christopher Nolan
Starring: Hugh Jackman, Christian Bale, Michael Caine, Scarlett Johanssen, David Bowie

Let me start by saying that my appreciation for movies exceeds movies. My appreciation for movies leaks over into the art of filmmaking. I look at cinematography, editing, soundtrack, lighting, and a lot of other creative elements that make up movies. I love when a director brings a vision to a movie that isn’t like anything we’ve seen before. Because of that, I’ve come to admire many directors. In fact, for the majority of my high school years I obsessed over Stephen Spielberg. I read biographies. I watched every one of his movies. I obsessed. I’ve grown to venerate these auteurs because of their effectiveness as storytellers. There isn’t anything I love more than a good story. And I love to tell stories. In fact, I’ve said many times that, had I not gone into ministry, I would have been a history teacher. That way, I could have told stories for a living.

All of that to say this: Christopher Nolan knows how to tell a story. If you’re not sure of the credibility of that statement, I’d like to cite Batman Begins as my prime example.

So, lets talk about the story.

What follows is a SPOILER FREE review.

If you’re haven’t heard anything about this movie, here’s a basic rundown: Two men, Robert Angier (Jackman) and Alfred Borden (Bale), are magicians, and more importantly, friends in turn-of-the-century London. As they try to break into show business, they learn many things about how to suspend the audience’s disbelief. Unfortunately, an incident takes place that drives a wedge in between the two friends. They quickly become rivals and enemies. Their rivalry starts with trying to top each other’s tricks, but then escalates to attempts at hurting each other, competing for the love of the same woman, and finally, murder.

The title comes from what the movie describes as the three parts of a magic trick: The first act is called "The Pledge"; The magician shows you something ordinary, but of course... it probably isn't. The second act is called "The Turn"; The magician makes his ordinary some thing do something extraordinary. Now if you're looking for the secret... you won't find it, that's why there's a third act called, "The Prestige"; this is the part with the twists and turns, where lives hang in the balance, and you see something shocking you've never seen before. It’s the point of the trick.

Lots of eyes were on Christopher Nolan in regards to this movie. He made his splash in Hollywood with 2000’s Memento, followed up by 2002’s Insomnia. But his real success came with 2005’s Batman Begins. And, as with any successful director, the follow-up to their biggest grossing movie is usually considered the real litmus test to determine whether or not they actually have the chops to make it.

So, what was good?
-The two leads. Hugh Jackman and Christian Bale are two amazing actors. Jackman is a virtual chameleon who can play anything from a macho, loner, tough guy, mutant assassin (X-men) to to the lead in Oklahoma!. Christian Bale can play bad like almost no one else out there. Just watch American Psycho for proof. He can also play tormented (The Machinist). Two things that he shows off in this movie. Two better actors would have been tough to find for these parts.

-Michael Caine. Dear Hollywood, from now on, when you make movies, if you have a part that calls for an actor to play a supporting role that involves teaching, narrating, representing the moral conscience, or speaking with a cockney accent; cast Michael Caine. Michael Caine is the new Morgan Freeman.

-The story structure. The way that Nolan tells the story is a magic trick in itself. He keeps you guessing on how things happen for the entire movie. Unfortunately, it wasn’t terribly difficult to figure out.

But…
-The way that the story is set up also leads it to be a bit choppy. I was never quite sure whether to blame the editor or the writers, but some scene changes were a little too abrupt for me. This coupled with a few misplaced plot twists could loose the less observant viewers. A chain is only as strong as its’ weakest link and a story is only as strong as its’ weakest scene (or transition). This story had a few weaknesses.

-Without giving too much away, the ending is somewhat easily predicted. Some big clues are given a little too early on. It’s a director’s job to lead the audience through a story. In order to lead, you have to stay up ahead. Nolan should know that a magician never revels his tricks, especially as early on as he did.


And so, to The Prestige, I give the honor of being awarded with a certified 3 Yarmulke™ rating.


Probably not an opening night movie (especially since it’s already on it’s third week). But definitely one that you can feel good about seeing in the theater. Dark themes, thought provoking, great acting, and an interesting premise make The Prestige a good, but not great, transitional movie between Batman Begins and its’ follow up, The Dark Knight, for Christopher Nolan and his alumni cast…

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