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The Prestige Misfires in ‘The Turn’

Sunday, October 22, 2006
by

The PrestigeThe Prestige

Dir: Christopher Nolan

As stated in the movie, all magic tricks are comprised of three parts: ‘The Pledge,’ wherin the magician presents a normal looking thing or situation and commits to make it extraordinary; ‘The Turn,’ wherin he performs the extraordinary act; and ‘The Prestige,’ wherin all is made normal again and the magician bathes in the crowd’s adulation.

***Spoiler Warning***

As one might expect, The Prestige, the film, is structured in the same way — the first five minutes are the pledge, the last five are the prestige, and the entire middle of the film acts as the turn. And, just as with any magic trick, during the turn the audience is sitting there trying to figure it out. A good magician will never have his secrets discovered; unfortunately, Nolan and his stellar cast are not able — despite the strong direction, excellent acting, intelligent script, canny editing and evocative cinematography — to keep their secrets, all due to something as unfortunate as a bad make-up job. Kind of like the rabbit hopping out of the hat at the wrong part of the trick.

***Here Ends The Spoiler Warning***

Which is unfortunate, because this is one of those movies that you only get to see once for the first time (by that I mean, a movie like Se7en or The Usual Suspects which, no matter how good they are as movies, are never as good as the first time you saw them because you now know what the big secret is).

The movie is so strong in most respects, though, that it’s impossible to dismiss it despite the above-mentioned problem and a couple of plot holes. Both Hugh Jackman and Christian Bale are superb as a pair of feuding late-19th century magicians trying to out-do and sabotage each other both on and off stage. Michael Caine is also wonderful as the manager of the two budding protegĂ©s, though he lifts his performance directly from his role as Alfred in Batman Begins. Scarlett Johansson and David Bowie are perfectly cast in their supporting roles, and there are strong turns from Andy Serkis, Roger Rees and Rebecca Hall in minor roles as well.

The film itself looks gorgeous — the costumes and sets are spot on, the colours and lighting move from warm and rich to cold and grey at a moment’s notice, driving the film forward through its various emotional states. The continuity of the timeline is shifted around in a very challenging and literary way, as one might expect from the director of Memento — I admit to feeling disoriented at first, it taking me about twenty minutes to find my bearings. Overall, it was a very strong film.

But, as with a magic trick, no matter how good it is, if you know how it works as it’s being performed, it loses some of its lustre. This is the fate which ends up befalling The Prestige.

I still recommend seeing it though.. 03971semaj

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5 Comments leave one →
  1. Pink Slip permalink
    Tuesday, October 24, 2006 4:34 pm

    My girlfriend and I are looking forward to this movie!

  2. Sarah permalink
    Tuesday, October 24, 2006 10:57 pm

    **Do not read this post if you do not want any more spoilers. You have been warned!**

    The make up job was hamfisted. It gave away that part almost immediately to two of our party of three. But the real kicker was the two cats (all three of us got that, with no particular trouble). If there are two cats now, what else are there going to be two of later? What are they going to do about that? Oh….so that’s why. Okay. Now wait another hour for the movie to catch up with what the audience already knows, and you’ve got for a very boring film about magic — especially so because there’s no trick in it. Made us wonder about the test audiences, and how much they ruined the film.

    One of the greatest pities, though, was the potential for real, gut-wrenching emotion that was totally lost. If these two magicians had been great friends before they became great rivals, so much more the impact when the greed and jealousy makes them into nasty people. More like (if I may borrow the comparison from my sister) Salieri’s talent and potential given up for his jealousy of Mozart.

    And I must outrright disagree with you about the atmosphere of the film. I found it flat and unconvincing. It did not make me feel like I was in Victorian London, or Colorado for that sake. In fact, there were times when one could be mistaken for the other. I do not lay any of this fault with the actors though; I still really enjoyed the performances of Bale, Jackman, Caine, Serkis, and Bowie. Johansson was forgettable, but her character was hardly pivitol to begin with.

    I haven’t seen The Illusionist, but from what I’ve heard, neither films are worth the effort. Too bad…the world can always do with more good movie magic!

  3. James17930 permalink
    Wednesday, October 25, 2006 6:39 pm

    Pink Slip — don’t read this review before you see the movie — there be spoilers.

    Read it afterwards though. Read it over and over again.

  4. Saturday, November 4, 2006 10:50 am

    And Pink Slip, be sure to shut down your browser and re-open it with each read.

    *** Yarr, Spoilers Ahead, Thar Bee ***

    Yeah, I saw it all coming as well, much sooner than the filmmakers wanted. Though my assumption when we saw the multiple cats n’ the hats wasn’t that “There’ll be two of something else” later, but rather “Batman, you sly dog. Trying to fool Wolverine again, eh chap?” I thought it was part of the big con (which I think is what they wanted us to think, seeing as the movie had no science-fiction elements thus far). But later on I figured out the whole drowning bit.

    The makeup job didn’t tell me right away who it really was, just that it was another one of the actors in disguise (the way they hid the guy with camera angles and editing tipped that hand as well). Process of elimination, and one really obvious side-view shot later on, are how I figured out which actor that was and what was the explanation behind it.

    All predicted twists aside, there’s one thing that puzzles me: am I the only one who thinks they skipped out on the obvious ending? One Bat-twin is dead, and the other one has just learned that Van Helsing had a duplication machine. I say have him step into that machine, feel the Boink of Scientific Progress, and welcome back his twin brother. I think that’d make a good, creepy capper to the already creepy relationship the brothers had, and a nice companion to the creepiness of a man drowning himself nightly.

    Anyhoo, end of the day, I basically agree with James: it’s a good, well-made movie, but it would’ve been nice if I’d been fooled by it.

    *** Yarr ***

  5. Monday, November 27, 2006 8:28 pm

    I really liked Batman begins. The genre of comic-book hero in cinema is not for everybody, like semi-standardized production-line films, but Mr Nolan does the hero justice in a well thought-out and meticulously crafted film. There is no need for hesitation at the cinema, Batman Begins delivers.

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