Don't you just hate spoilers? I do, too. That's why I always try to include warnings. However, I sometimes ramble a bit too much here or there and maybe a few (or many) key plot points slip without me giving proper notice. So I'd like to include a blanket spoiler warning for the weary internet travelers of the world: Here There Be Spoilers. You've been warned.

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

The Prestige

If you thought The Illusionist was a bit too simplistic in terms of its plot then luckily for you there is 2006's The Prestige. If The Illusionist has one twist that it tries to sell to the audience then The Prestige has several. Sometimes this works to this film's detriment, but more often than not it feels compelling. This film has a cast that is very impressive. The likes of Christian Bale, Hugh Jackman, Michael Caine, Andy Serkis, David Bowie, and Scarlett Johansson grace the screen. It's a very impressive list. The direction is equally impressive with Christopher Nolan at the helm.

But what exactly is The Prestige?

This movie is about a rivalry between two magicians, but the movie itself is actually designed as a magic trick. What you are being shown is often something else and until the last act it's tough to really know what is and what isn't. Where this works as a detriment is that sometimes the movie just feels like it's fake. By that I mean that it tries real hard to look smart, but at times it reaches a little bit and that unravels some of the mystery and awe a bit prematurely.

The Illusionist had a trick, but it also had substance. Most of the characters that were there weren't there just to be there. Those characters had substance. Rufus Sewell, Edward Norton, Paul Giamatti, and even Jessica Whatshername... They felt like real people and not caricatures of real people. 

The Prestige, to me, feels like a movie where the push for the complex story line exceeds any connection to the characters. When both main characters are conniving and obsessive to the point of possible murder it's tough to root for them. Michael Caine's character is really the only one in this entire movie that felt like a tried and true human being with a decent amount of screen time. An actual character, in other words. 

Yeah, the female characters in this movie came across as normal and even real, but they weren't exceptional. The female characters as written in this movie were mostly just there to add estrogen to a testosterone-laden cast. Scarlett Johansson added nothing to this movie other than just being arm candy for Jackman and then later Bale. 

Rebecca Hall actually got the better end of the deal and had a character with some substance, but she was the neglected wife the entire time and that sort of thing gets old quick. Personally, I'm surprised she didn't murder Bale's character in his sleep for being such an asshole, but I guess that would have fucked up the movie too much. So she offed herself when things went south instead. Which was stupid. Nothing is worse than an underutilized interesting character.

For a movie that tried real hard to be complicated about the magic it often felt a bit too cliched and simple on the domestic front. No one really cares about the relationships, basically. We're there just for the rivalry.

Bale and Jackman are in top form, but I often felt that they weren't portraying people as much as they were portraying inhuman dicks. There are moments where it feels like we can root for these guys, but they don't last long. I mean, there's nothing wrong with a bunch of unlikable characters filling up a movie. I like that at times. But it's just that it made me not really care who won or lost their stupid magic battle. There's a narrative device involving the two characters reading each other's diaries that describes what I'm talking about. At times they really just felt like the same character. 

But Bale and Jackman are still kickass actors and they make it worth the journey. It was interesting because of the actors. It was interesting to watch because it was a well-made film with a good premise.

But it doesn't to have any real emotional significance until we find out who the real good guy and villain are at the end of the film. Of course, how each trick was done also gets revealed, but that's something I'll get to in a minute. 

I think this is a film that will matter more (or less) after a second viewing. The first part of the film is really just a bunch of stuff happening out of chronological order. It can be tough to follow. 

The film opens up with Hugh Jackman's apparent murder by Bale and then Bale gets a lovely prison cell and a copy of Jackman's diary, too. 

As Bale reads the diary the journey into the past begins, but the flashbacks often involve Jackman writing in his diary about reading Bale's diary. Which is... well, it leads to some "huh" moments if you don't really pay attention. 

Again, this film tries really hard to sell its twists and turns, but sometimes it twists too much and the past and present can be difficult to discern. Especially when it breaks away from the diary stuff completely and shows us scenes involving Michael Caine's character that neither of the leads could have been present to witness. 

The ending is what saves the movie from feeling like a waste of time, but I'm not sure it saves the movie by that much. I see a lot of positive ratings for this movie from audiences and I agree with those positive ratings in spirit, but in the analytical part of my brain I should add that if this movie succeeds than it does so despite crippling itself at times.

The ending wasn't that much of a trick as far as the actual reveal of the magic tricks. The Illusionist, although it was a simpler movie, was harder to guess. The Prestige, despite being a twist inside of a twist, was easier to see coming. As far as how each trick was done, at least. I mean, that was basically revealed at the beginning, anyway. A bit of guesswork and the tricks are solved. 

What really saves this movie is the final confrontation between Bale and Jackman. When one of them finally gets the ass-whipping he really deserves, I kind of cheered. And that is the real twist. Knowing who is the lesser of the two evils is. I honestly didn't know until the very end. 

Christopher Nolan is a boss. I just felt like this movie was trying too hard at times. I enjoyed it, but watching it was more like watching the process of filmmaking and acting rather than watching a movie. It's good from many technical aspects like the settings and the colors used in the film. Technically, this movie is not only good but excellent.

But the story and some of the characters are kind of... Well, those just happen to be the weakest part which is a huge killer for any movie no matter how good it looks.

Final verdict? Serviceable, but not up to Nolan's usual standards. I liked it well enough, but I wasn't like, "YEAH, THIS IS THE BEST MOVIE EVER!!!!" 

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