Wednesday, 17 December 2014

Alternate Best Actor 2006: Christian Bale and Hugh Jackman in The Prestige

Christian Bale did not receive an Oscar nomination for portraying Alfred Borden but that's not all, and Hugh Jackman did not receive an Oscar nomination for portraying Robert Angier but that's not all in The Prestige.


The Prestige is an excellent film about the rivalry between two magicians, one the great magician and one the great showman.

On the surface the casting of the two leads of the Prestige seems to fit particularly well for their characters. First you have Christian Bale as Alfred Borden who desires to come up with an illusion that would truly leaves audiences astonished. Bale is well known for his physical devotion to his roles, and although there technically is not anything notable in that regard here, but it makes it particularly fitting that he plays Borden who has a particular devotion to his craft. Bale is a perfect fit for the role perhaps because of this as he has that natural intensity about himself, and despite his many talents as an actor a natural charm is not necessarily one of them. In many ways Bale was brilliantly cast as Borden as he matches the style of the character with his normal style of performance. This is not some gimmick but actually a particularly effective element in the film.

Now Hugh Jackman on the other hand is not particularly known for his physical devotion to the roles, although he actually has done that for several films though usually not in to the degree of Bale's, and to be particularly blunt is not referred often as a great actor. Jackman though is often noted for his personal charm and showmanship, especially due to his background in the musical theater. Again like Bale, this appears to be especially clever casting as Robert Angier is not meant to be a great magician since he does not come up with the tricks himself, but he is known for his ability to win over a crowd. Well Jackman certainly seems to be quite the fit here as well as he has the particularly outgoing manner in many of his performances. Each fitting into these molds is incredibly effective in showing the divide between the two men not only as a magicians but also through their differing personalities.

At the beginning of the story chronologically speaking this does not matter as they simply are both assistants to another magician who have at least friendly enough working relationship with one another. This quickly changes though when Angier's wife is killed in a dangerous trick they may or may not have been caused by Borden accidentally. It is a fantastic scene for Jackman where he shows the uncontrollable grief that will propel Angier to have a personal vendetta against Borden. Angier quickly cements the permanent animosity between the two when he purposefully shoots off two of Borden's fingers in a fit of anger. Jackman in fact is rather effective in the way he portrays Angier's hatred as he plays in the bursts of an intense hatred as though there are moments of his memory of his wife that force this out of him, and propel him down this dangerous path.

While their feud begins we also see the two begin each of their personal careers as a stage magician. With Bale we see Borden's act which actually has a distinct lack of charisma about it, which actually works quite well in showing Borden's inability to fully capture the audience's imagination. What Bale does convey so well is that internalized intensity about the man. Although it is not until the end of the film where we actually learn what exactly Borden is doing Bale does absolutely convey the drive in the man. There is constant conviction in Bale's performance as he seems to have this dire secret only he knows, and no one else is allowed to foresee. In a certain way Bale is colder to we the audience as well as Bale does carry himself in a less open fashion than Jackman does, Bale though makes this the nature of Borden which is particularly compelling to watch.

Jackman, as Angier tries his hand at his own career, gets to present his skills as a showman. Interesting enough The Prestige may actually be one of the best examples of Jackman's personal charm actually translating to one of his performances, although here it is refined to for a specific intent. Yes Angier is often more lively and outgoing than Borden when we see him at a personal scale, but the real charm of the man appears when he is performing onstage. Jackman is just about perfect in these scenes capturing the grandeur of the method that Angier employs on stage. Jackman builds the presentation of Angier's own tricks, and shows the way in which he makes them seem better than Borden's original. Jackman brings the needed charisma in these scenes as he creates the broad appeal of the magic trick making it a true even simply to witness what is happening.

As they respective careers take off so do their mutual obsession with one another which never truly ceases to exist. In Bale's performance it is a most curious mix in his performance as though Borden has two very different personalities at hand. At times Bale portrays Borden as certainly devoted to his trick, but more dismayed than driven in regards to his rivalry with Angier. When the issue comes up Bale portrays mostly a palatable regret more than anything else as though Borden does feel responsibility for what has happened between the two of them. Borden at these times seems altogether more gentle of a soul particularly seen in his interactions with his wife Sarah (Rebecca Hall). Bale has a genuine sweetness in these scenes as he portrays a more likable Borden who it seems would be content just to live his life without the world of duplicity involved with magic.

On the other hand though there appears to be a certain randomness involving Bale's performance as he suddenly brings a vicious intensity as Borden takes particularly extreme measures to get his own revenge against Angier. Bale makes the obsession particularly palatable in Borden in these scenes as it seems to extend into his personal life as well. In these scenes Borden starts an affair with Angier's old assistant, and has a callousness towards his wife. Bale in these scenes shows Borden to be far more aggressive in his attitudes, and altogether colder man who seems to often lack empathy. Bale again is as good at brutally course as was at being sweet. There seems to be an obvious disconnect within Borden. Bale handles both versions, if you will, of the character, but this is not a case where they seem shades of man. There seems to be something off about it.

With Angier there is not that same sort of duplicity. As I stated before Jackman plays the part as though as basically sudden outbursts of the obsession. This is not to say that Jackman portrays Angier as though he is loses his obsession then suddenly gains it. Jackman is instead quite good in mostly showing Angier as being much better than Borden at covering up this obsession. Jackman keeps his more outgoing nature most of the time to seemingly make Angier more likable, yet there is almost his own subtle coldness about him as the obsession never seems to truly leave him where it would on occasion leave Borden. A quick side note one of the few reservations  I have towards Jackman in his performance as Angier's double for a trick named Root. It's an over the top caricature by Jackman. He's suppose to be a bit much, but Jackman plays up the act a little too much to be funny.

Of course everything is turned on its head when all is spoiled with the twists being revealed. One of the twists is that Angier is still alive, even though at the beginning of the film it appears he has drowned with Borden being sentenced to hang for having caused it. This is revealed to Borden by Angier visiting Borden under his real name Lord Caldlow. Bale is outstanding in the scene as he rather realistically portrays the complete disbelief in Borden, and is particularly affecting as Borden pleads to Angier to reveal the truth. A slight sour point comes for Jackman once again as his Caldlow demeanor is also a bit on the caricature side of things, which is especially noticeable in the reveal since Bale is so good in that scene. Thankfully Jackman redeems himself with his final scene as Angier's reveals his "trick". Jackman is great in his final scene as he portrays the sad end result of Angier's obsession in his dying moments. Jackman has such a desperation and fear as Angier reveals the risk of his trick, but is also quite moving as he still hints at a final pride of finally pulling off his greatest illusion.

There is yet another twist as it revealed that there is not one but two Borden as he had a twin the entire time. This reveal is a particularly effective twist because it does not only hold up to scrutiny it actually only makes the film all the more interesting on re-watch. One of the reasons for this is Bale's performance which suddenly makes perfect sense when you realize there are two of them as one has been hidden all along in Borden's silent partner Fallon. This makes their final scene together particularly affecting as the brothers finally, in public anyway, seem to recognize each other as brothers and Bale is actual quite heartbreaking as he creates the strong kinship between the two that we only really see in that scene. Bale realizes the twist in his performance by carefully creating each brother even while you're not aware of it, and gives a particularly compelling portrait of two men who share the same life yet are never the same man.
(For Jackman)
(For Bale)

19 comments:

mcofra7 said...

Glad you liked Bale. I believe this is the first five you have given him.

Matt Mustin said...

Both are excellent here, especially Bale. Would you say this is Jackman's best performance? Personally, I prefer his performance in Les Mis (sue me) but I can't deny his great work here.

koook160 (Robert MacFarlane) said...

My thoughts on both precisely. I actually noticed on re-watch that Bale uses a *very* slightly different accent for one of the twins. Notice it's less thick in the scenes where he's in love with Hall?

luke higham said...

Louis: Can I have your Rating & Thoughts on Ben Affleck in Gone Girl.

luke higham said...

Louis: You forgot to add Hugh Jackman's label at the bottom of the Review.

Also, Your top 5 favourite Performances from Christian Bale.

Michael McCarthy said...

I really hope Bale gets the win.

luke higham said...

Michael McCarthy: Muhe will win hands down.

Anonymous said...

Thoughts/ratings on the rest of the cast?

GetDonaldSutherlandAnOscar said...

FUCK YES BALE, COME ON SON

John Smith said...

Louis and everyone else, toughts on Woody Allen in Manhattan

Anonymous said...

@John Smith: He was Allen playing his usual self, which is always fine although not that great. It still might be my favorite of the "Allen playing Allen" performances. I also think thet Manhattan is a masterpiece (I like it much more than Annie Hall, really) and I thought that Mariel Hemingway was great.

JackiBoyz said...

Louis what are your thoughts on these films and Performances that you have seen?

Hunted (1952)
Run Silent, Run Deep
Les Diaboliques
The Young Philadelphians
An Inspector Calls
Desperate Hours

Dirk Bogarde - Hunted
Marcello Pagliero - Rome, Open City
Fredic March - Desperate Hours
Clint Eastwood - Play Misty for Me

Matt Mustin said...

Louis, who are your nominees for 2006 Lead and Supporting Actress?

Louis Morgan said...

Matt: I'd say this is Jackman's best.

Luke: I'd like to give a re-watch first.

Bale:

1. The Prestige
2. Out of the Furnace
3. American Psycho
4. Empire of the Sun
5. The Fighter

This is eliminating performances that may be reviewed in the future.

Anonymous:

I believe I've given my thoughts on Caine and Bowie before. Although Bowie perhaps improved even more with this viewing.

Perabo - 2.5(Short part, but I did feel she handled it just fine)

Hall - 4(I always think she has more screen time than she does, but I think that testament to the effectiveness of her performance. She has a sweet chemistry with Bale, in certain scenes, but is moving in depicting her character's slow breakdown)

Johansson - 2(Her accent is a bit distracting, and past that I don't think she leaves much of a mark)

Serkis - 3(A lively small bit of work from Serkis. His role is simple and he does not do much, but he makes you feel that there is more to Mr. Alley than we see)

John Smith:

Allen doing Allen again but this is a good example of it.

Louis Morgan said...

Jackiboyz:

Hunted - (A somewhat disposable man on the run type film, but elevated by its leading turn. I do feel it could have developed the criminal boy relationship more but I feel part of the problem with that is Whiteley's performance)

Borgarde - 4.5(He does do some strong work as he plays a little less refined character than he often plays. Borgade does well with such a role by creating the intensity of a murderer, but bringing the heart of a man who does care for a boy's health. His final reaction when he realizes he has to go back to save the boy is particularly good)

Run Silent, Run Deep - (A straight forward but rather well done submarine film from the period. It handles its battle scenes fairly well, and creates a bit of life among the crew as well as between the two commanders)

Les Diaboliques - (A terrific thriller as Clouzot certainly knew how to build suspense while never forgetting the human elements of the story. That final reveal is especially memorable.)

The Young Philadelphians - (An overlong although decent enough American, and more optimistic, version of Room at the Top. It probably tries for too many things with war film elements, love lost, social climbing, families dark secrets, and of course a trial. It doesn't really do these poorly though, but it's not exactly a masterpiece either)

An Inspector Calls - (A intriguing enough film of vignettes about how one family could ruin the life of a single woman. It treads carefully not to become too heavy handed, something the play apparently does not avoid. What really holds it all together is Alistair Sim's great performance)

Desperate Hours - (Yeah Bogart was probably too old in 55 to be playing a hot shot hood, but this is a well done home invasion movie. It builds its tensions nicely and ends with a fairly rousing climax)

Pagliero - 3.5(Fabrizi leaves a stronger impact to be sure, but Pagliero gives solid depiction of the devoted freedom fighter. His role is mostly just being passionately convicted which is what he does)

March - 4(When March does not ham it up he's usually good, and he does not ham it up here. He's very good at creating the titular desperation as the film progresses through, and builds it up quite well. When the climax hits March absolutely earns his well delivered out burst and makes the end particularly satisfying)

Eastwood - 4(Eastwood's least showy role from 71 especially compared to his fierce some Dirty Harry and particularly against type work in the Beguiled. Here he plays just an average DJ with one psychopathic fan. Eastwood is always a good straight man and that the case here as he brings the needed fear and unease to back up Jessica Walter's off kilter performance)

Matt:

Actress:

1. Naomi Watts - The Painted Veil
2. Helen Mirren - The Queen
3. Martina Gedek - The Lives of Others
4. Kate Winslet - Little Children
5. Judi Dench - Notes on a Scandal

Supporting Actress:

1. Mia Kirshner - The Black Dahlia
2. Winona Ryder - A Scanner Darkly
3. Adriana Barraza - Babel
4. Eva Green - Casino Royale
5. Abigail Breslin - Little Miss Sunshine

GetDonaldSutherlandAnOscar said...

Thoughts and ratings for the ladies?

Also what are your top 10 favourite Christmas films, if there are that many

GetDonaldSutherlandAnOscar said...

And is Watts in your top 10 list of actresses now :D

Louis Morgan said...

GetDonaldSutherlandAnOscar:

Watts - 5(I have to say the film surprised me as a whole. Watts though was the highlight for me. She starts out as a great and very believable depiction of her character's shallowness. Then at first she's very good in showing just the annoyance at being punished by her husband, but she so elegantly builds frankly respectability to her character that's quite marvelous)

Mirren - 4.5(Mirren does do a great job of combining the two sides of the character. On one hand she is a queen in her performance as she does carry herself with such a regal command and there is the power of personality in her. She is very effective though in suggesting the undercurrent of emotionality in the queen that lies beneath it all)

Martina Gedek - 4.5(She borders on supporting but I feel the film focuses enough on her specifically to put her in lead. I think she does strong work by showing the emotional pain that leads one to become an informer as she never makes you blame her, but rather only creates sympathy as you see what is done to her)

Dench - 4(This is an interesting case for me as I think this is a time where she could have maybe hit her notes a little harder. She hits the right notes and I liked her not very Dench-like performance for the most part, but I don't it just never became as striking as it should have been. She technically was playing a crazy cat lady, and she perhaps could have gone a little bigger)

I believe I've given my thoughts on all of the supporting ladies.

Was she not before? Well she should have been.

Louis Morgan said...

Christmas Films:

1. It's A Wonderful Life
2. A Christmas Story
3. Scrooge (1951)
4. Miracle on 34th Street
5. Scrooged
6. The Muppet Christmas Carol
7. The Bishop's Wife
8. Gremlins
9. Scrooge (1970)
10. Home Alone