Cast: Christian Bale, Hugh Jackman, Scarlett Johansson, Michael Caine, David Bowie
Director: Christopher Nolan
Storyline: Two rival magicians are obsessed over outdoing the other.
Bottomline: One helluva trick!
“Now you’re looking for the secret… but you won’t find it because you’re not really looking. You don’t really want to know the secret… You want to be fooled.”
Those lines from ‘The Prestige’ are as much about filmmaking as much as it is about magic.
‘Are you watching closely’ asks the tag line. But if you resist the multiple distractions intended to misdirect your attention and do watch it closely enough, you might find the secret early on in the film because Christopher Nolan has decided that the best place to hide something well, is in plain sight.
So it’s best to watch this beautifully crafted piece of celluloid willing to be fooled, willing to be distracted and mislead.
Based on Christopher Priest’s novel about two rival magicians obsessed with outperforming the other, ‘The Prestige’ is as much about magic as it is about obsession, jealousy and vengeance. Angier (Jackman) and Borden (Bale) are rivals trying to steal the show. Each other’s show, that is.
A knot in the plot turns the rivalry personal and each goes all out to outdo the other.
Christopher Nolan borrows a few tips from magic to style his narrative pretty much the same way a trick is performed. Given the advantage of being able to bend time and space on film, Nolan also employs his signature back-and-forth storytelling to make it all the more fascinatingly complex.
After all, a good trick is about telling a story in three acts: The Pledge, The Turn and The Prestige. A magician takes something ordinary, makes it something extraordinary, and then pulls something out of his hat, something you never saw coming (The Prestige).
The Prestige is the most difficult part of the trick because the audience knows you’re going to trick it and is watching closely. More so in a film that, unlike a stage trick, lasts infinitely longer, a medium whose construct, unlike magic, requires that you do place all your cards before the audience, just to be fair and make it more participative.
A lot of what Nolan does to the film is pure magic. Career-best performances by both Christian Bale and Hugh Jackman trying to outdo each other (both of them are equally solid), Michael Caine and David Bowie cast to make ordinary roles extra-ordinary characters and a sassy Scarlett Johansson to distract and deceive.
The quality of writing is top-notch, the editing clever enough to conceal and cinematography every bit deserving the Oscar nomination. Clearly, one of the best films of the year.
It’s only when you watch the film a second time, you realise how simple it really was.
But then, like Borden says: “The secret impresses no one. The trick you use it for is everything.”