The Prestige (2006)
The Prestige (2006)

Genre: Drama and Mystery Running Time: 2 hrs. 10 min.

Release Date: October 20th, 2006 MPAA Rating: PG-13

Director: Christopher Nolan Actors: Hugh Jackman, Christian Bale, Michael Caine, Piper Perabo, Rebecca Hall, Scarlett Johansson, Andy Serkis, David Bowie, Jim Piddock, Christopher Neame, Roger Rees

 


 

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here has been a lot of repetition in recent productions – a bizarre coincidence of rival projects competing for an opening this year alone. “Hollywoodland” and “The Black Dahlia” both focused on notorious, unsolved mysteries, while back-to-back releases of Truman Capote biopics (“Capote” and “Infamous”) vied for awards-show attention. So it’s not entirely unexpected to see two turn-of-the-century magician movies also hit the box office within two months of one another. Both “The Illusionist” and “The Prestige” rely on shock value, twist endings, and cinematic misdirection to enthrall the viewer, and both are extremely well-made Hollywood productions. But “The Illusionist” takes a lighter, fairy tale approach to an otherwise daunting storyline (complete with sweeping love story), while “The Prestige” travels down a far more sinister and severe path.

Two young magicians, Robert Angier (Hugh Jackman) and Alfred Borden (Christian Bale), start out as assistants to a mentor illusionist, hoping to eventually become admired and respected master entertainers themselves. When Angier’s wife is accidentally drowned during a particularly dangerous water escape trick, he blames Alfred, who was responsible for tying up her arms. Unable to cope with the loss, the two become bitter enemies, initiating an injurious game of oneupmanship, attempting to outdo each other’s tricks and performances – until moral boundaries are crossed and insidious interference measures are utilized. When Borden develops a stunning and crowd-gathering transportation trick, Angier will stop at nothing to learn its secret and to recreate it with his flashier showman approach. Meanwhile, Olivia Wenscombe (Scarlett Johansson) is a magician’s assistant, rotated between the two as a spy and a lover. And Michael Caine gives another outstanding performance, here as Cutter, an engineer who designs the various mechanical components for both rival’s tricks.

Despite using magic as its gimmick, “The Prestige” is more than just a tale of warring stage nemeses. It’s an engrossing tale of revenge, retribution, and deception, in which the main characters perpetually evolve and shift between those motivations. “Watch closely” cautions the opening monologue, and heed the warning well. With exceptionally dynamic characters and the corkscrew unfolding of events (including jumping from one point in time to another and occasional flashbacks for reiteration), this film will have audiences guessing until the inconceivable climax. Perhaps too complex for the average viewer (not unlike Nolan’s astronomically knotty “Memento”), the twists and turns and constant distractions, like that of the perfect magic trick, generate nonstop enticement; since none of the characters can really be trusted, neither can the events being witnessed onscreen. The director’s signature, chaotic timeline occasionally lends to confusion, but it simultaneously adds to the satisfaction of the resolution for those who can keep up.

Equally awe-inspiring are the labyrinthine script and hauntingly poetic dialogue, churned together with a hearty blend of humor, intelligence, and poignancy. Just when viewers think they’ve figured things out, that’s when the exquisite diversionary tactics really kick in. This transfers over into the characters themselves, who can be despised and loved interchangeably as the story progresses – and for all the wrong reasons. Nolan’s filmmaking approach includes a desire for audiences to be aware of his techniques while watching, particularly when it comes to the careful Victorian era details that are just prevailing enough that they refuse to constrict the picture to an exact period. With the additional idea of casting only actors unaccustomed to such 19th-century environments, Nolan and director of photography Wally Pfister wanted every aspect of the film to be more contemporary, accessible, and real. Production Designer Nathan Crowley visualized the sets to look like a Victorian version of Tokyo, overcrowded and bustling with chaotic life. And perhaps the most attractive aspect of the story and the look is that neither fit systematically into any one genre, successfully spilling over into a range of atmospheres and styles. This all lends to a mature, abracadabra brain tickler for anyone ready to be submerged in a grandiose, visually sumptuous tale of the unexpected.

– Mike Massie

  • 8/10