22 Feb 2011

The Prestige - Christopher Nolan - Film

This is one of those films that I would be tempted to discard because at a glance, it looked to me like 'family entertainment' - a very broad and very un-thought provoking category.  I first saw it around two years after it's release in 2006 when it happened to be on the television and I happened to be sat in front of said television in my student abode, pondering which bottle of gin/wine/rum/grappa (oh yes we had a bottle of a grappa!) to open first.

But it turned out to be a very pleasant surprise, and the grappa was saved for another day. 

It has a very impressive and talented cast:

Michael Caine (marry me - no I'm serious)
Scarlett Johansson (please can we swap faces?)
Christian Bale (let's just be friends)
Hugh Jackman (let's not even be friends, you irritate the hell out of me)
Andy Serkis (you will always be Gollum to me)
Piper Perabo (that lass from Coyote Ugly)
David Bowie (please adopt me and rename me Zowie.  Please.)
Rebecca Hall ... yeah, I don't know either.

As actors, I thought all of the above were excellent in this film.  Particularly David Bowie, he wasn't in it for very long and his weird accent wasn't overly convincing but he's David Bowie.  In fact, he should have just played himself in the film and been from the future!  The end credits could have rolled along under the serious moonlight or in the most peculiar way.

But that's not how the film was written and the sooner I learn to accept that the better.  The general story of the film is as follows:  Alfred and Robert, and Robert's wife Julia, are assistants to a magician in London around the end of the Nineteenth Century.  When a trick goes wrong live on stage with fatal consequences for Julia, Robert and Alfred become enemies.  Robert is fixated on blaming Alfred for his wife's death and this becomes an obsession when, years later, Alfred develops a new magic trick.  Robert now becomes obsessed with finding out the secret behind the trick and devotes his time to developing a similar trick just as good.

He cannot rest though, because he knows Alfred is doing the trick in a different way.  Alfred has a secret and Robert will not stop until he knows what it is declaring 'That man stole my life, I'm going to steal his trick.'

Meanwhile Alfred is struggling to balance 'living his act' with having a family, and he and his wife Sarah begin to encounter serious obstacles in their relationship.  Very early on, Alfred tells Sarah he loves her, to which she replies 'Some days you mean it, some days you don't.'  Unfortunately it is impossible to have a relationship without honesty and trust, and as a magician Alfred feels that he can never be truly honest with, or invest all of his trust in anyone.

Robert, played by Hugh Jackman, is a positive and laid back American who takes a fun approach to magic and the art of being a magician.  Alfred, played by Christian Bale, sees it as just that though, an art.  He takes it very seriously and treats it as a way of life rather than a profession.

Robert goes to extreme lengths to improve his trick, some lengths which, for me, were a tad far fetched.  When Bowie's character leaves a particular object behind for Robert I felt the gritty reality of the film was brought down a peg or two.  I felt that up until that point it was a believable story.

Visually I loved this film.  The costumes and the sets are brilliant - I'm generally in love with the way things looked and the way people dressed from around 1890 up until 1930.  There's lots of tailcoats and top hats and big grand theatres, and everything looks 'musty' as they do in films set in this era.  I like that though, because you can bet things really were musty.

In addition the music used throughout the film is graceful and haunting - I felt the music maintained the film's prestige (pun really not intended).

This film documents rivalry, revenge, suspense, mystery, illusion and magic.  The biggest, best twist lies with Alfred's trick, when his secret was finally revealed I had one of those moments where you go 'Aha!'.  Much more realistic than Bowie's parting gift any road.

Here is the trailer to wet your appetite: