Everybody has a very favourite book, and sometimes they—meaning the Hollywood elite—take that favourite book and try to make a decent movie out of it. This is where the wheels fall off the wagon; your beloved characters, the richly detailed universe they inhabit, and even the most delicate of plot points are lost thanks to Tinseltown’s patented lack of subtlety. Every once in a while though, a true adaptation is made that allows the story to thrive in another medium and such is the case here with The Prestige.
Based on the novel by Christopher Priest, The Prestige is set against turn-of-the-19th-century London, The story is about a pair of stage magicians named Angier (Hugh Jackman) and Borden (Christian Bale) who are both prot´gés of master propsman John Cutter (Michael Caine). Angier and Borden share a friendly rivalry, although both men are ambitious enough to want to pursue their own craft. Borden is a technically brilliant magician and a bit of a risk taker; Angier, meanwhile, has more flair and is the real showman of the two. A tragic accident stemming from Borden’s hubris results in personal loss for Angier, and a great dual between the two men begins. An escalating tete-a-tete begins, wherein the retaliation of Angier results in retribution by Borden, as the two men seek to do physical harm against each other at vulgar cost.
I think a lot of people are going to be surprised by this, and that includes everyone: from those that have read the book through twice to someone who’s never heard of it. The genius of it is that the movie is like a magic act itself, and director/co-screenwriter Christopher Nolan understands the game of misdirection and sleight of hand all too well. You know going in from the advertising that there’s a big twist in the end, but the thing of it is that Nolan lays out all the clues right there in front of you. Now the few smart cookies out there may pick up on it, but the audience I saw The Prestige with was absolutely mesmerized. For those of you, like me, who have read the book, the great joy is in watching how Nolan painstaking lays out all the subtle hints and cues you read in the book. Nolan also ditches the modern day bookends, which in my opinion was a wise move, so the story is re-jiggered a bit, but I think his changes were all positive in keeping with the nature of film.
In The Prestige, Nolan employs a narrative device similar to the one he used in Batman Begins, where the movie begins in the middle of the story, with the point leading up to it revealed through flashbacks until time catches up. There are multiple levels going on as Angier gets Borden’s version from his diary, and Borden later gets Angier’s through his. It’s not only a clever storytelling device but a wink and a nod to the novel as much of both men’s story is told similarly by novelist Priest. This may seem confusing, but Nolan’s editing is clean and precise: the story never falls in on itself.
There are some great performances from a lot of tremendous actors, but you have to especially recognize the trinity of Jackman, Bale, and Caine. It’s a compliment to the film that my geek-tuned mind wasn’t preoccupied with the idea that I was kind of seeing Wolverine versus Batman, which is a thought that I’m sure will show up sooner or later in a Family Guy cutaway sketch. Scarlett Johannsen, who finally gets to be in a movie set in England where she gets to do an English accent, plays the woman that comes between Angier and Borden. The film’s biggest “get” though has to be David Bowie playing the part of renowned physicist and inventor Nikola Tesla –just great casting that brings a smile to your face the minute he comes on screen. Providing great supports as Tesla’s assistant is Andy Serkis (Gollum from The Lord of the Rings).
I’ve been reading some message boards on the Internet on which people are talking about how there are so many plot holes in the movie, but I didn’t think that was so. Of course, I could be just talking as someone who had the benefit of reading the book first (look at the Harry Potter movies and how much is implied in the assumption you’ve read the book). The thing that bothered me was the way the final revelation was sort of beat over the audience’s heads past the point of making us understand and giving us a throbbing headache. Again though, this may just be my point of view from having read the book.
The Prestige is one of those movies that makes you realize that the popcorn flick still has the ability to captivate and engage when the material is in the right hands and the people involved have the right attitude. It’s almost a pity they can’t turn this into a franchise. But then again, with this out of the way, Nolan, Bale, and Caine can get going on The Dark Knight. Let Batman begin again.