One of my favorite movies of the past three years, The Prestige is loaded with an awesome cast, a great plot, and directed by one of Hollywood's upcoming visionaries, Christopher Nolan. Everything about this movie was great, and if you haven't seen it yet, stop reading this and go rent (or buy) it right now.
I'm not sure if I'm partial to this movie because of my personal experience with magicians, or if it simply is as awesome as I think it is. All of you who helped me celebrate my 18th birthday will undoubtedly remember the aptly named "Magic," a friend of the family who is a professional magician. It may be the years of him performing card and coin tricks for me when he stayed with our family (leaving me shaking my head and awestruck every time), but I think my personal experiences give me a slight bias toward favoring this film, so keep that in mind as you read on.
Personal experiences aside, there were so many aspects about The Prestige that I loved. The structure of the movie was fantastic; set up like a magic trick, the film itself is divided into three parts: the pledge (where the magician shows you something ordinary), the turn (where he makes it disappear), and the prestige (where the object returns). The film's narrative structure parallels this magical formula and becomes even more brilliantly obvious the second time you see the movie. Chris Nolan and his brother Jonathan are becoming my favorite writing/directing tandem of today. They seem to know exactly what to show on screen to keep the tension at its highest point, and they have a knack for picking excellent projects to work on with highly talented actors (which always helps). There were a couple of different things that stuck out to me while watching the movie: one being the aforementioned structure of the narrative mirroring the stages of a magic trick and another being the dueling magicians in the forefront of the story and the dueling inventors on the sidelines, Tesla and Edison. I thought it was interesting that Christopher Priest (who wrote the novelization of the story back in 1995) chose to compare the subplot of obsessive inventors at the turn of the century with the fanaticism of the magician main characters. It also served as the basis for what I thought to be the funniest line in the whole film. Hugh Jackman's character, Robert Angier, is waiting to see Tesla in Colorado Springs hotel when a bunch of burly looking gentleman arrive outside. He asks the bellhop, "Do they work for the government?" and the bellhop responds with a completely straight face, "Worse. They work for Thomas Edison."
I don't think there is a scene that can be considered "filler" in the whole movie. Every aspect of the story is on a crash course to the inevitable twist ending, which some people consider the film's weakest point. When I walked out of the theater, I must admit I thought the twist was a cop-out, but after seeing it again, it's the only way they could have done it without bringing some sort of supernatural aspect into it, and we all know how that turns out. The movie takes place in the early 1900's, so the costumes and everything represent Victorian England. Luckily for the audience, the movie isn't really a "period piece" and therefore doesn't RELY on the costumes/settings and divert our attention from the most important aspect of the film: the story.
Hugh Jackman, Christian Bale, and Michael Caine were all phenomenal. Scarlett Johansson, as hot as she may be, was by far the weak link in the cast. The story required a super-hot assistant to distract the magician's audience while he was performing; it's a shame that the same effect happened in real life and the assistant did nothing but distract us from the excellent acting of the rest of the cast.
There were some awesome visual metaphors in The Prestige. The most prominent of these was when Angier was walking through the snow to meet up with Tesla in Colorado Springs. The camera shows Angier, dressed impeccably from head to toe, trudging through the snow (leaning on his cane to account for his limp) toward the electrified gate. The use of mise-en-scene here is perfect for the situation: a man crippled by his own obsession wandering through the stark, deathly winter toward shock and electrocution is subtly captured in a few camera shots. The snow is nearly blinding to Angier, recounting another Nolan film, Insomnia. Another good example of visual representation of what's happening on screen is when Angier finally is able to garner audience applause after performing "The Real Transported Man" near the end of the movie. He had been using a double the whole time, and was forced to take his bow beneath the stage while his double received the hard-earned applause that Angier deserved. This feeling of success and achievement was captured on film using a high-angle shot from Angier's perspective, high above the audience as they look up in amazement and clap for him. There are some other examples (the Chinaman's "devotion to his art" comes to mind), but I digress.
After seeing this movie once, you really do want to see it again (ala The Sixth Sense). The physical signs leading you toward the twist ending are so blatant after you know you're looking for them, and that is the sign of exceptional film-making. On a scale of "suck" to "amazing," I'd give this one a solid "rockin'." Until next time...