Are you watching closely? Now every one of Bobby’s entries about this challenge consist of three acts; the first act is the intro. He figures out some witty remark to open the entry with, sometimes using a quote or a reference to the film of the day. He will sometimes drop his opinion on the film but often he leaves that for later. The second act is called the body; he explains the plot before going into his opinions on various things such as the cast, character development, visuals, production values and eventually rounding it off with a discussion of his favourite scenes. But you wouldn’t stop reading yet as there is a third act; this is the conclusion where he always starts to type random junk hoping it will sound witty. And he always ends things asking you to follow him on Twitter. And now that that’s out of the way, let’s take a look at today’s film.
We are in Victorian England at a time when the performing industry is very different and also quite similar to how it is today. We have two magicians Alfred Borden and Robert Angier who are probably the bitterest of rivals. At the start of the film Angier drowns while performing one of his stage acts and Borden is found at the scene of the crime, thrown in prison and tried for murdering him. When a solicitor delivers Angier’s notebook to Borden, the film flashes back to show exactly how these two became rivals. It started back when they were both working together with their manager Cutter. Angier’s wife Julia drowned once on stage during a performance due to something that may or may not have been Borden’s fault. Over the years both magicians began to rise up on the London stage performing scene on their own and each of them kept getting revenge on the other, at the cost of anything else good in their lives. Angier eventually became so obsessed with finding out the secret to one of Borden’s tricks that he journeyed all the way to Colorado to see Nikola Tesla. As the film goes on, we see exactly how far both of these men were willing to go in order to be the best at what they did.
Of course I am a big fan of the films of Christopher Nolan which is why the only two of his films to make my list got into the top ten (spoiler warning) and this was actually the first of his films that I saw. I was going to the cinema with my brother and cousins and we just searched what was on and picked this only because of the word “magicians”, not really caring whether or not we got in to see it. By the end of it we were all blown away. Four teenagers who were used to seeing popcorn action, comedy and horror flicks for fun were blown away at watching such a dramatic and well directed thriller that kept us interested and guessing the whole way through. The film isn’t really so much a mystery story in that there’s one big thing that you’re waiting to get revealed at the end, but rather there are plot twists but you almost forget about them because you’re so absorbed in what’s happening to the characters. In some ways it doesn’t even feel like a period film because if you placed Borden and Angier in the entertainment industry of today and made them musicians or something else like that then the story could still work. All the themes of obsession, sacrifice, secrecy and dedication could easily apply to any pair of rivals in the industry today.
We do have an all star cast here (as we always seem to do these days) with Hugh Jackman playing Angier and Christian Bale as Borden. Neither of them is the lead because both of them are the main character and both of them have equal development and screen time. It is interesting to watch the characters progress as we firstly sympathise with Angier when his wife is killed due to Borden’s carelessness though he himself doesn’t know whether or not it was his fault. We see Angier as the rightful hero trying to make a life for himself against the cocky and douchey Borden. However we do eventually slip into a lot of grey morality since Borden has a wife and daughter whom he loves dearly though his dedication to being a great magician takes a toll on those relationships. Really neither of them is good or evil, but they are both two men who became great magicians and lousy human beings at the same time. Michael Caine is featured as Cutter, the stage engineer who acts as a special teacher to the two men. He almost acts as the voice of reason and a bit of a father figure, slowly becoming the heart of the film. The role seems like it was written for him and only him, which of course is fine with me.
The ladies in the cast include Scarlett Johansson playing Angier’s assistant Olivia. She was definitely born in the wrong century because she looks so fitting in Victorian clothes and hairstyles as well as a sexy English accent. It slips up in places but still sounds good enough. Rebecca Hall and Piper Perabo (also doing a good English accent) also have smaller roles as the wives of Borden and Angier respectively. Hall is very impressive in particular. Andy “Gollum” Serkis dons a fun-sounding New York accent to play Alley, an assistant to Nikola Tesla who is in turn played by David Bowie, who is nearly unrecognisable. Needless to say, this impressive cast all go well together to create an interesting collection of characters to watch.
I really enjoyed all the scenes where we actually see the magicians performing their illusions as there really are quite a few. Even someone who isn’t that interested in the craft of stage illusions would find these scenes worth watching. The list of tricks include guessing whatever items people in the audience has in their pockets, a woman with her hands bound escaping from a water tank in less than twenty seconds, making a bird disappear and reappear (we see two versions of this trick being done actually), a bullet catch and the big one is the Transported Man which has to be seen as my explanations really can’t do it justice. It’s interesting to see the tricks being developed backstage as the magicians practice them and then cutting straight to them performing on stage. I guess it’s no secret that a budding young filmmaker like myself enjoys watching other films about people performing because you always get that nice seamless transition between what happens backstage and what happens when the performers go out on stage.
So Christopher Nolan makes his unofficial debut on my list despite being one of my favourite filmmakers, though I suppose that’s an achievement to not make an appearance until the top ten. This film’s plot is a little overbearing and can get confusing at times but the beauty of it is that the film can be re-watched just so you can figure out all the twists and turns as well as picking up subtle foreshadowing for what’s to come later on. I’m not going to spoil the ending but I will draw attention to the fact that some people considered it a cheat or a cop-out especially when they weren’t expecting it. I can understand that but of course as I keep saying in my reviews for films that get criticised for these kinds of details, take it with a grain of salt. Unfortunately I can’t think up a witty follow-on to the big intro I came up with so I’ll just leave you now and of course remind you all to follow me on Twitter. You can start clapping now.