Wednesday, April 4, 2007

On DVD: The Prestige

I finally caught up with this film on DVD and it's more than a little frustrating to write about it. Much like The Sixth Sense, the enjoyment with The Prestige lies in not knowing how it's going to end. How do I write about a film when the very thing I most want to write about gives the entire thing away? Trying to write about The Prestige without giving something away is, at best, difficult.

Christopher Nolan continues to impress me, but he has this obsession with non-linear story telling. This sometimes works brilliantly, as in Memento; in Batman Begins, however, it was annoying. Here he strikes a happy middle ground. He achieves here with I think he tried to do in Batman, and now it works. The jumping back and forth in time work to reveal the parallels between main characters and when all of the timelines, as it were, converge, there's a marvelous and honest sense of inevitability.

Where the film fails is having a protagonist you give a hoot about. Between Christian Bale and Hugh Jackman, I found myself pulling more for Jackman's character. You may feel different. It feels as though you're supposed to like Bale more because he's more earthy, more working class, but he's such a shallow jerk.


In either case, neither is all that loveable, admirable, or even embraceable. These are two men obsessed with themselves, their own fame and self-aggrandizement. They were friends, now they are enemies, obsessed with stealing secrets from each other and unraveling the performances of the other. Their rivalry will be their mutual undoing.


Herein lies the problem with writing about the film. What is safe to be told? Has enough time passed, as with The Sixth Sense, that we can discuss how this film ends? Probably not, so I will politely, respectfully defer.

What impressed me most about The Prestige is that it is fundamentally honest with its audience. Contrast this with The Illusionist, another magician film that came out about the same time. The Illusionist just lies its butt off. You see tricks that are possible only because you're watching a movie, and routines are pulled off just because the film needs them to be pulled off. The final reveal is a cheat.

The Prestige, on the other hand, shows you how each gag is done. Sometimes the setups stretch credibility, but at least you're seeing an effort toward explanation. This holds true all the way to the very end. Nolan wrote the screenplay with his brother, Jonathan Nolan; they deserve applause (and Jonathan's on board to write Spielberg's Interstellar, which instantly gives that film some credibility).

But at film's end there's the end, and I had figured out the major turn about two-thirds of the way in. Despite that, there was still a surprise up Nolan's sleeve. You may or may not buy it. It worked for me because, again, the film was honest; everything you see is foreshadowed and setup in advance.

If I had given a hoot about either (or both) of the antagonists, the final reveal would have truly been haunting, the stuff of nightmares. Since I didn't, however, I am left appreciating the craft and little else. The final reveal is disturbing, and leaves you with a simple question: Are you the man in the box, or are you the prestige?

Because I didn't care for either character, I just didn't care what the answer was. "Good widdance to bad wubbish," as Elmer Fudd would say.

Rated PG-13, no doubt for disturbing imagery, mild sexual banter, some violence, and little birds crushed in little cages.

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