Director: Christopher Nolan
The Prestige is a film I’ve always wanted to come back to. I saw it when I was young, before I knew who director Chris Nolan, (Inception, The Dark Knight, Interstellar), was, and it stuck with me in a way that very few films do. It stars Christian Bale, (Empire of the Sun, The Machinist, Batman Begins), Hugh Jackman, (Les Misérables, X-Men, Prisoners), Scarlett Johanson, (Avengers Assemble, Lost in Translation, Under the Skin), Michael Caine, (Alfie, The Ipcress File, The Italian Job), Rebecca Hall, (Vicky Cristina Barcelona, The Town, The BFG), Andy Serkis, and David Bowie. Christian Bale and Hugh Jackman play two warring stage magicians in Victorian London, in this film that combines Period Drama, Science Fiction, Fantasy and a good deal of genre thrills.
I would say that there are three images that have stuck with me from my childhood from movies, in a really disturbing, thorny way. One’s from Ben Wheatley’s Kill List which I’ve mentioned on the blog before, the other being this shot from The Incredibles:
Shocking stuff right? The third image is one from The Prestige that upon a re-watch I realised I’d actually misremembered, I’m not going to spoil it for you because it’s kind of the main crux of the film’s resolution, but watching the film again, knowing the answers to some, (I’d also forgotten some pretty major ones, luckily), of the film’s mysteries the ending made me feel sick to my stomach.
It’s so interesting that now with Chris Nolan becoming very much the premier Hollywood director working at the moment, that you can go back and look at his earlier, darker, twisted films like The Prestige, Insomnia, and Memento. This film being particularly interesting as he’d just made Batman Begins so he’s acquired some level of stardom and Hollywood shique, but he hadn’t shaken off his earlier grit completely, which is also really, really interesting to see in a period piece of all things. It’s a wonder it’s a 12 I tell you, and that tells to the deftness with which Christopher Nolan can convey emotion without being gratuitous. The benefit of this is that he has this wonderfully star studded cast, it’s not often you’ll see Batman, Wolverine, and Black Widow on screen together. I was so pleased to see Andy Serkis in this film without CGI because as good as he is at motion capture he is a wonderful performer whose face I want to see just once in a while! Is that too much to ask!? (For proof, watch 24 Hour Party People), Bale and Jackman are fabulous, Johansonn’s British accent clearly improved some before Under The Skin but she’s still really good in this, (I did think Rebecca Hall was a bit shit though), and David Bowie is clearly having the time of his life playing a somewhat kindred spirit in Nicola Tesla.
The film is told in sort of concurrent flashback’s as Jackman and Bale read eachother’s diaries, this forms about 4 layers of time frames, which means that in the first 5 minutes you’re flicking back between them at an incredible rate just to set the scene, which creates this dreamscape feel to it as you get lost in malaise of it all, which is a wonderful pairing with the magic in the film, which is rigorously explained but seems fantastical as Caine says “now you’re looking but you don’t see anything because you’re not really looking”, and he’s right, I’m convinced that upon inspection the narrative of this film would be wonderfully airtight and aside from the flights of fancy make complete narrative sense, but I don’t really want to pick it apart because I just enjoy being so baffled at the achievement. Memento is famous for it’s bifurcated narrative that comes backwards and forwards at once to meet in the middle, but I honestly think this a more ambitious, more skillful, and less attention grabbing achievement in narrative structure and I actually think Nolan does a more professional job of it in The Prestige. In this film the narrative isn’t all the film is, it’s just a tool to tell the story properly.
I keep flitting between this and Inception as my favourite Christopher Nolan film, but I think I prefer the gut punch in this to Inception, which it took a few runs to love as much as I do, but that’s for a different review. This film is a truly remarkable achievement, and not just in style, (it is shot beautifully on some well used film stock Wally Pfister), but also in the quality of the story and storytelling, which at the end of the day is all style should be, a tool for good storytelling, (take that Lars Von Trier). I can’t really convey this enough, WATCH THIS MOVIE.
P.S. Jonathan Nolan wrote this film with Chris, his brother, he also had a hand in the writing of Memento and is responsible for Person of Interest, which I am reliably informed is sublime. His new show Westworld will be coming out soon, it’s based of a Michael Crichton, (Jurassic Park), film of which I am very fond, and this show looks, if anything, better than the original, and Person of Interest, which I promise I will watch and review for you one day. So keep an eye out for Westworld, I know I will be.