"The Prestige" opened yesterday, and it's a pretty good story, though not told in an engaging way. (and there is some violence.)
The inventor Nikola Tesla appears in the story, and I looked up a website about him. What a fascinating person. http://www.neuronet.pitt.edu/~bogdan/tesla/bio.htm Was surprised to learn that he was the son of an Orthodox priest.
If you'd rather read the review on my website: http://www.frederica.com/writings/the-prestige.html
For the first few minutes of "The Prestige," I wondered if the projectionist had loaded the trailer by mistake. After a brief, surreal opening shot (but file it away for later), we hear wise old stage-magician Cutter (Michael Caine) describing in voice-over the three "acts" of a magic trick.
First, he says, comes "The Pledge;" the performer shows the audience "something that appears ordinary, but of course -- it probably isn't." Next, in "the Turn," he must "make his ordinary something do something extraordinary" - fly away, turn into something else, disappear. But that's not the end; the audience expects more. It's not enough to make something disappear, "you have to bring it back." That third step is called "the Prestige."
All this is helpful information, but you wonder why it's jammed into the first few minutes of the movie. Usually a film takes its time unfolding, and the gradual, teasing disclosure of an obscure title's meaning is one of the pleasures of viewing. Here the data is thrown out with brisk efficiency, as if there's going to be a pop quiz later.
This sort of mishandling runs through "The Prestige," the latest from talented director Christopher Nolan, who showed his chops in "Memento" (2000) and "Batman Begins" (2005). A good magic trick is seductive, but a half hour into this film I *still* felt like I was watching a jumpy, agitated trailer. As we were marched smartly through the plot points, it seemed that the story was not so much developing as echoing, like a child doggedly repeating piano scales. These patterns may have created a pleasing symmetry in the novel by Christopher Priest (Nolan and his brother Jonathan made the adaptation), but on the screen it was just tiring.
The story isn't a bad one, really. It concerns two young men in 1890's
Early in the film a tragedy occurs that plants everlasting enmity between the men. From there it gets rough fast. A scene soon follows in which one tries to kill the other, who escapes at the cost of two fingers -- and that's just the start. The stakes go very high, very quickly, but we haven't yet had a chance to become emotionally engaged with these characters.
In a story like this, one that follows an interpersonal battle, the viewer needs some reason to feel some sympathy toward at least one of the lead characters. Perhaps it's simple, and there's a bad guy and a good guy. Or maybe - even more satisfyingly -- both guys have just reason to be grieved, and both are flawed. But in "The Prestige," although Angier's quest is interesting, he's not particularly likeable, and comes across as obsessive and somewhat brittle. Borden, his opposite number, is no better, and appears loutish and unfaithful (Rebecca Hall is wonderful as his long-suffering wife, Sarah). Scarlett Johansen is appealing, as always, but her role as stage assistant and mistress of each man in turn seems more like set-dressing and less like a plot necessity. At one point she simply vanishes from the story, and nobody makes her reappear.
A good part of the middle of the film takes place, surprisingly, in
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