The Prestige (2006)
Starring: Hugh Jackman, Christian Bale, Michael Caine, Scarlett Johansson, Piper Perabo, Rebecca Hall, David Bowie
Directed by: Christopher Nolan
After seeing the movie trailer for this, it became my most anticipated movie of the fall. It looked fresh and exciting, an original movie property about turn of the century magicians in a movie landscape littered with copycats, remakes, and sequels. Then, another turn of the century magician movie came out, but it didn’t really do anything to lessen my anticipation for this one.
It turns out Christopher Nolan‘s The Prestige is the best turn of the century magic movie of the fall! Actually, it’s a pretty ideal fall movie, in that the action and spectacle aren’t big enough for the summer blockbuster season, the tone isn’t heady enough for the winter Oscar season, it’s not epic enough for the Christmas blockbuster season, but it’s far too good for the post-new year dumping grounds. Certainly not a perfect movie, it doesn’t quite match my anticipation levels, it’s a solid 2 hours of entertainment that should provide you an entertaining evening at the movies.
The movie is a thriller about two rival magicians, Rupert Angier (Hugh Jackman) and Alfred Borden (Christian Bale), former colleagues who go their separate ways after tragedy, both determined to make their mark in the world of magic (or “magic”, as the movie is careful to point out that what these men do are tricks, and they are practitioners of tricks, not wizards). When Borden comes up with an amazing trick, Angier obsessively tries to learn the secret of the trick to outdo Borden, to the extent where he loses the support of his mentor Cutter (Michael Caine) and his assistant and lover Olivia Wenscombe (Scarlett Johansson).
As one might expect from a movie about rival magicians, The Prestige is a cat-and-mouse game of one-upsmanship that comes to a head by the end fairly spectacularly. The mystery around the movie is solid, although an attentive viewer should be able to figure out the big twist half way through (I did). The leads all turn in solid performances, with Jackman as the narrowly determined Angier and Bale as the less flashy, more talented, and probably darker Borden. Caine is his dependable father-figure self, Johansson is seductive in her small part, and David Bowie is perfectly cast as the mysterious Nikola Tesla. However, the movie does feel a bit sterile at times, with Nolan not quite tapping into the charisma of his leads to the fullest.
The look of the movie is fantastic, with Nolan having a great eye and mind of knowing what to show and when. It’s easy to get swept up in the showmanship of the movie’s focus. The secret to a great magic trick, as explained by Caine’s Cutter in the movie, is its three act structure: first is the Pledge, where the performer shows you the ordinary and promises to do the extraordinary, the second is the Turn where he turns the ordinary into something more, and the third is the Prestige, the final flourish where the magician does something we’ve never seen before and the audience applauds. For the movie, Nolan does a great job with the Pledge and the Turn, but could’ve used a bit of work with the Prestige.
It’s a fine trick pulled off with The Prestige, one well worth your entertainment dollars and time, but not the unbelievable trick I’d hoped it to be.