The Pledge is a term used by magicians (and people in the industry) to describe the first part of any magic trick – when something ordinary is shown to an audience. It is followed, by the second step, The Turn – when that ordinary object becomes extraordinary. The Prestige is the third and final act.
It’s that part in a magician’s performance when something that seems extraordinary is brought back into the realm of the ordinary, with the technique (of course) never fully revealed. It provides an audience with just enough to feel secure that it is in fact just a constructed ruse (things disappearing and never coming back would – as the film points out – scare people) as well as entertaining them by engaging their minds. Half the fun of magic is trying to figure out how a trick was pulled off.
The Prestige is Christopher Nolan’s latest film in his growing and impressive film rÃ©sumÃ©. It charts the careers of two rival magicians, Robert Angier (Hugh Jackman) and Alfred Borden (Christian Bale), as they battle it out among themselves to be the best magician in Victorian London. This duel, originating from – and spurred on – by a tragic event, drives both men to points of obsession and violence that will change their very nature. As they push themselves to discover each other’s secrets those around them are also consumed by their bitter rivalry.
The Prestige has been constructed much in the same way as a magic trick. It, by Nolan’s own admission, is broken into three acts that are meant to resemble the three parts of a magician’s performance. As a film it operates by continually shifting your perceptions and altering the way you view the world that has been given life. The ordinary is flipped into the extraordinary and back again. The film throws you around rather violently to start – at certain points you’ll have to really think to get your bearings – but I’m glad to say that in this case this is a good thing; and it only stops when the credits roll. The same bending and twisting narrative style evidenced in Nolan’s break through film, Memento, is experienced here. Only the most resistant will not be hooked.
Hugh Jackman is (again) on fire. The release of The Fountain saw him push his boundaries dramatically and this film again sees him stretch himself, albeit in a (at times) more comedic manner. He is a stellar performer who, if he carries on in this fashion, will no doubt reach the legendary status of the man who plays his character’s mentor, Michael Caine. Jackman uses his Tony Award winning stage experience to deliver the showmanship that Robert Angier is famous for and Christopher Nolan must be congratulated for great casting.
Christian Bale compliments Jackman’s portrayal with a performance that is its antithesis. Where Angier is loud and showy, Borden is dark, brooding and quietly calculating. Both men stand for different things when it comes to their craft and when they do collide it makes for fantastic viewing. Bale, as is the rest of the cast, is on top form.
The Prestige is an amazing thriller that goes straight into my top ten list of 2007. It gripped me immediately because like most I’m a sucker for a good magic show but also because it has been so deftly written, performed and crafted. I haven’t seen a film where these elements come together so beautifully in quite some time.
The Prestige is a film that I could gush over with superlatives all day but they won’t come close to doing this film justice. You may figure out what is going on fairly early, as some have said they did (personally, I partially got it at about the three-quarter mark), but even then I’m certain that you will still need to sit and piece certain elements together. Just like a magic trick, trying to figure The Prestige out is where it’s enjoyment lies. Go and see it!