Sunday, October 29, 2006

The Prestige

A very good movie, although it won't be a classic. Directed by Christopher Nolan ("Memento," "Batman Begins"), based on the World Fantasy Award-winning novel by Christopher Priest, "The Prestige" is the story of two rival magicians and their escalating competition with and hatred for each other.

Nolan handles things with his usual skill. The characterization is often subtle, the structure impeccable, all the details in place. The only real problem, as far as I can see, is that the structure is so complex, telling flashbacks within flashbacks via dual diaries, that the emotional impact is blunted. It's hard to open yourself up to the catharsis because you're so busy trying to keep all the pieces straight in your head. And, of course, the big final revelation is so thoroughly telegraphed that it's no surprise at all.

The casting is a little distracting, as well. The lead roles are fine; Hugh Jackman and Christopher Bale and Michael Caine and Scarlett Johansson all do fine work. But the minor roles can be distracting. When you should be paying attention to the substance of the scene, you keep seeing these faces: "hey, that's Niles from The Nanny," hey, look, it's that dude from Cheers," "dude, that's David Bowie." Stunt casting is fun in a mindless summer action film. In an intricate mystery, I think it detracts.

But these are relatively minor quibbles in what is overall an absorbing and entertaining mystery. Now I want to read the book, and/or read Carter Beats the Devil again.

Speaking of reading, I've been slogging through Henry James's Turn of the Screw for weeks now, and it's just an incredible pain. The story itself is pretty good, but the verbal theatrics are so way over the top that I find it hard to read more than a chapter at a time.

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