Tuesday, 1 April 2014

Movie Review #3: The Prestige (A Mesmerizing Magic)

During its release, ’Prestige’ was dubbed as a cheat by most of the top critics. Either they were too naive or expected another ’Memento’ (my all time favourite) from Christopher Nolan. I agree that the end is not thoroughly convincing and takes a complete U turn from the entire movie’s theme. 
However, this didn’t stop me from admiring the rest of the movie, no matter how many times I see it. 
’Prestige’ looks into two egoistic magicians, who are too obsessed to outmatch each other and in the process enduring great mutual loss. Alfred Borden (Christian Bale) and Robert Angier (Hugh Jackman) are magician apprentices. When Alfred, during a magic show, accidentally kills one of the performer, Julia (Piper Perabo), who also happens to be Robert’s wife, the war starts. Both embark on their separate careers, with only one agenda in mind: to destroy each other. 

The plot unfolds non-chronologically and there lies the greatest entertainment. It is shown as Alfred reading Robert’s diary, which mostly consists of how Robert tries to understand a magic trick by reading Alfred’s cryptic diary. We get to see events unfolding layer by layer as the movie switches from Robert’s diary to Alfred’s diary. Robert is a natural showman, but less talented of the two. He is successful but always envies on how Alfred is able to pull out ’The Transported Man’, Alfred’s trademark magic. The talented Alfred lacks presentation skills and therefore less successful in his endeavors. What is similar between them is the ruthlessness to go beyond any limit to achieve their obsessions. Robert even gambles his girlfriend to spy on Alfred, while Alfred is ready to lead a ’double’life if that is what it takes to keep his magic a secret. 

This movie itself resembles a magic that is carefully executed to hold our attention till the end. If you are not watching closely, you will end up losing an important trick or two. In fact, that’s the reason for the punch line: Are you watching closely? The entire plot is in fact revealed in a scene, where a pigeon trapped in a cage crushed to death and moments later brought back to life. The small boy who watches this magic is able to understand the trick by his sheer innocence and grieves for the bird while all the adults applaud the magic. 

It is also interesting to see how Alfred and Robert ploys to ruin each other. Robert plants himself in Alfred’s Bullet Catch magic that costs Alfred his fingers. As a revenge, Alfred paybacks by breaking Robert’s leg and inducing a mutiny within his team. The scene where Alfred talks to Robert’s double intentionally mistaking him as Robert and subtly hinting on how he should keep a check on his double is a masterpiece. 

Nolan uses frequent parallel shots in his narration and he is quite successful with that. The way the film opens with the voice over of Cutter (Michael Caine): "Every magic has three acts: the pledge, the turn and the prestige" is excellent. We see Cutter performing a bird trick to a little girl with parallel shots on a stage performance subtly implying a connection. As in ’Memento’ the answer to the movie lies everywhere throughout the movie and all we have to do is watch it closely (again). 

The climax is the most controversial part where the film crosses its rules and move to the science fiction territory. It is certainly a letdown for such a great build up. But on afterthoughts, it’s difficult to envision an alternate way to conclude the film. The final battle of words between Alfred and Robert is quite thought provoking. When we end up tallying the successes and sacrifices from both sides, it’s unclear on who has gained and who lost the war. 

Christian Bale and Hugh Jackman fit to their roles like gloves. Michael Caine as Cutter is the narrator and hence we often see his point of view. Scarlett Johansson as Olivia is the spy who changes sides. ’Prestige’ is a visual treat that needs to be enjoyed by involvement and further enhances watching experience on repeated viewing. 

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