I think Christopher Nolan has the best start of any director’s career. I can’t fault any film of his I’ve seen and two of them, Dark Knight and Inception, are probably my favourite films. He doesn’t compromise on the direction of his films. They are never gimmicky, lazy and are always perfectly pitched and executed for the film he is trying to make. Memento was brave and compelling storytelling, Insomnia produced amazing performances from two brilliant actors, (Al Pacino and Robin Williams) Batman Begins and Dark Knight are the definitive way to put Batman on-screen and Inception was intelligent, creative and blockbuster filmmaking without the need for explosions or an established franchise.
When I have this high a regard for a director and the film he has produced, it does mean that I will view any other films they make with some nervousness and trepidation. Dark Knight Rises comes with its own host of nervous anticipation because of the high standard Nolan set with Dark Knight and the curse of the trilogy, but even something as detached and low-key like The Prestige gave me cause to worry. I wanted this to be good. I wanted Nolan to maintain his impeccable record.
I wasn’t disappointed. I thought The Prestige was as intelligent as Inception, as much a spectacle as moments in the Dark Knight and as thought-provoking as Memento. It even had the heavyweight stars to almost rival Williams and Pacino. What Nolan managed to deliver was a clever, twist-filled and compelling tale about a Victorian rivalry between competing magicians.
It does help Nolan that he can now command actors that can easily manage some difficult performances. Christian Bale adds another success to a glowing movie career. He plays this part excellently, managing to be the evil, devious magician rather than the usual hero that he is more commonly being cast. Hugh Jackman is the “hero” and dependable in this sort of film. I’ve never been a huge fan of Jackman and other than Wolverine, haven’t seen him anything that has really convinced me that he should be considered a great actor. I can now add The Prestige to a slowly developing list of Jackman successes.
The performance that steals the film is Nolan’s “Journeyman” Michael Caine. He is carving out a resurgence of a film career and largely has Nolan to thank for that. He is one of the best things in the Batman series, which is an achievement considering the names he shares the billing with, and managed to carve out an influential performance from a small part in Inception. Here he does the same again, laying a steady-hand and a reassuring performance to a film that could border on the ridiculous.
The ridiculous nature of the story is part of the charm though. Any film about magicians and magic has to make its decision early on whether it will stay “real” or play with the idea of magic actually existing. It makes for an interesting film if you stay with the story of how illusions are created and demonstrate the importance of the spectacle, rather than play with the idea that men really are being transported or that rabbits really can appear in hats. Nolan tries to dabble with both and I think this is where the film finds it only real flaw.
The first three-quarters of the film, and the main focus of the story, is on the rivalry between Jackman and Bale and their desire to perfect one, specific trick. The chase for this trick and the cost that comes with it makes for a compelling film, especially if you add the “magic” behind some of the tricks and how they are performed. Unfortunately, things become slightly far-fetched and for lack of a better word, “silly,” for the final third of the film and this slightly soured things for me, but only just.
What Nolan does give you is a film with great performances and a great story. It has a lot of twists, turns and brilliant reveals. I sat, smug with myself for figuring out the main twist only to be shocked to realise the layers of the story that Nolan has developed without you ever really knowing it.
Overall, I loved The Prestige. It isn’t as clever as Memento, as much of a spectacle as Inception and no where the near the perfection that is Dark Knight but it is another film that Nolan can call a triumph. With great performances from Bale, Jackman and the always dependable Caine, coupled with a great story, Nolan has produced another film that he can add to his so far perfect directing record.
(1 – Awful, 2 – Average, 3 – Good, 4 – Great, 5! – Must See)