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Sunday, April 30, 2017

The Prestige (reviewed by Ben)

Twists, turns, and two devastatingly handsome superhero stars make this accused copycat of a movie an entertaining epic that keeps your eyes glued to the screen. Though it is enjoyably suspenseful for an action/horror picture, that doesn’t slow down the acting of titans Hugh Jackman, Christian Bale, Michael Caine and David Bowie who have to issue cheesy one-liners that have done in other great actors in similar pictures.

I am afraid of giving away one of the film’s many, many twists if I tell the full tale, but the basic story begins as a flashback at the murder trial of Alfred Borden (Bale) for killing a rival magician, Angier (Jackman), by drowning.

When both men were alive, their endless game of stage magic upmanship starts off bloody and only gets bloodier. It goes from messing with a rival’s trick, to maiming an audience member, to blowing fingers off another, to murder of one magician’s wife. This ridiculous smack back-and-forth with magic tricks is witnessed by aging engineer and friend of Angier (Caine) as well as that magician’s assistant and lover (Scarlett Johansson) who is caught between the two rivals. Also involved is real-life inventor Nikola Tesla (if you are confused by this part, so was everyone else). I won’t spoil the other twists involving doubles, lovers, crippling and faked deaths, to say anymore would be to ruin a fantastic (if confusing) movie.

I will tell you that you will find both leading men obnoxious, not the actors (who together hold 4 Oscar nominations and are strong here) but their characters, whose only character development involves them turning from cocky to frightened over what the other might do to them next.

The movie isn’t often spoken of, as it wasn’t beloved upon its 2006 release and only scored Oscar noms in technical categories. I can understand why some people might prefer a movie like The Fast and Furious that is 95% action since it starts with an adrenaline high and stays there. In the case of Prestige, the action starts with the first “prank” (the murder of someone dear to the other) ending with the murder of the other.  One could grow tired of the endless back-and-forth, because it is fairly repetitive.

For me, I enjoyed the film as an interesting backdrop in the life stories of two magicians, and the far more interesting engineer (Caine) who watches them as they do reckless thing after reckless thing. It sits with you like an epic such as Les Miserables (which Jackman starred in six years later) in that it’s an extremely dramatic story told over a long timeline. It is devastatingly satisfying to see the grand scale and the two characters full stories, beyond their deeply rooted rivalry. It also accurate in it’s representation of the photogenic time period.

There are some things I dislike about Christopher Nolan (who directed the film) movies, like his more recent duo of mind blowers, Inception and Interstellar which are horribly overrated in my opinion (though they did provide a few thrills). For instance, he makes so many crazy things go on at once that you can barely bring yourself to question if it makes sense. You can’t be gripped by a twist if you don’t get it. I did not find those problems in this period piece and found it to be more about human connection than the (admittedly awesome) magic tricks, and though there were many twists; you could mostly follow them.

It is not perfect as a movie but, as I have already pointed out, it is very intriguing.  Its plusses include a phenomenal cast, deeply rooted in a story that uses action as a backdrop for storytelling. All in all, a fantastic, if imperfect, movie.

Dad responds: I was kind of looking forward to seeing Batman take on Wolverine, until I realized that the two of them would be going at it by doing magic tricks while wearing fake beards.  That said, I’m a sucker for any film that tries to depict the power stage acts had over an audience during the pre-Internet/television/film age (which reminds me it’s time to introduce the boys to Mr. Memory - a stage act featured in Hitchcock’s 39 Steps).

But I digress.  I’m with Ben on both enjoying, but also tiring of the endless twists and turns of the plot, with the sci-fi element introduced via Tesla seeming like an especially ludicrous application of technology to what amounted to a so-so disappearing act. It was good to see Ben appreciate Michael Caine holding his own against the two intense whippersnapper stars, although I’ve seen enough of Caine to know when he’s doing a film in order to pay for another Picasso.  And how did Bowie decide what film roles he would play?  I-ching?