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Thursday, January 18, 2018

The Prestige (2006)

First, watch it twice. If you can, wait roughly a decade between viewings. It makes a difference.

Occam's Razor, or the idea that the simplest explanation is usually the right one, isn't just at the center of Christopher Nolan's The Prestige, but it should be at the center of Hollywood. In the age of big budgets and CGI, the simple camera tricks still are enough. The real legwork begins in pre-production because Occam's Razor doesn't mean create an endless stream of remakes, no matter how complete those scripts start.

Robert Angier (Hugh Jackman) and Alfred Borden (Christian Bale) are competing magicians with different approaches to the art. Angier is more cautious but feeds of the admiration of a crowd. Borden believes in pushing the art and understand that it comes with a price. Yet, both lean on the same showstopper, "The Transported Man," and its many innovations and interpretations.

The film takes audiences through these scenarios, weaving in and out of each, across the long lives and careers of Angier and Borden. It's not always clear when an event is happening, but little details become memorable thanks to strong performances from Jackman and Bale, and this allows pieces to come together when needed.

Supporting the leads are some of the best performances from Michael Caine as Angier's engineer, Cutter, Rebecca Hall as Borden's wife, Sarah, and Scarlett Johansson as Angier's assistant, Olivia. If Angier and Borden are too cold to follow...they don't help things.

That's why the second viewing helps, it was easy to focus on how terrible Angier and Borden are too each other. This time around, the focus was on terrible they were to others, but their better sides came through as well. Just two good men brought down by obsession. A difficult thing to watch, but with hope.

The Prestige shows that when obsession takes root there are glimmers of hope, and (more concretely) ways out and compromises that can be made so that the thoughts subside at least a little, if not completely. Typically, obsession is shown as more inner torment, and situations are all-or-nothing. This gives the outsider's perspective. For people who deal with obsession internally, watching The Prestige may frustrate them, but it may help as well, as the credits roll and the conclusion sets in. There's a clear line, and while that line may move, it's still there and can be stepped away from.

The Prestige, like "The Transporting Man," is a great mystery, but it boils down to a few things, too. Fantastic performances from its cast, continuity editing that doesn't call attention to itself (the time jumping does that enough), beautiful sets, and brilliant storytelling. It's not a trick, but solid filmmaking.
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