Never before have I seen so many moviegoers flail their arms as they exit the theater. In fact, an astute patron would liken the reaction to that of a crowd that has just seen an amazing magic trick. I have a feeling that’s exactly how the screen writing team of brothers Christopher and Jonathan Nolan want it. To be sure, The Prestige is a staggering labyrinth of deceit and double-crosses to the likes of which haven’t been seen since Memento, the Nolans’ breakthrough feature in 2000.
Ever since they were aspiring magicians, Robert Angier (Jackman) and Alfred Borden (Bale) have constantly been in heated competition. These are the kind of guys who can be in back row of the magic show and instantaneously figure out each other’s tricks. That is until Borden performs an illusion that completely dumbfounds Angier. Things rev up even further when Olivia Wenscombe (Johansson) enters the picture as Angier’s assistant.
I hasten to provide further synopsis. The Prestige is one of those films where it pays to be uneducated regarding the plot. The likely response by the average attendee, after the aforementioned flailing of the arms, will be to insist upon seeing the film again. The final twenty minutes provide enough shocks and gasps for the next three Nolan-induced brain twisters.
Pivotal to the film’s success are the two lead performances, and Hugh Jackman and Christian Bale are spot on. Jackman’s everyman demeanor contrasts perfectly with Bale’s dead-eye stare. Both men completely sell their magic tricks, emanating the same sense of wonder as those seen in The Illusionist just a few months ago – only with fewer special effects. Michael Caine does his patented wise ass old man routine as Cutter, the constructor of the apparatuses used by Angier. Scarlett Johansson is given the thankless role as the love interest, but is nevertheless effective in the scenes where her bust isn’t in the foreground. David Bowie even turns up as Tesla, the shady inventor who is competing against Thomas Edison when it comes to electricity.
Christopher Nolan’s direction, save for a few slow spots in the second act, is near-perfection. The look he has created, along with cinematographer Wally Pfister, is haunting, gorgeous, and certainly Oscar-worthy. The screenplay hops around in time, but, as Nolan proved with Memento, he is up to the task. This is crisp, engaging storytelling through the eyes of a director who, just when one thinks he can’t improve any more after Batman Begins, continues to bring something new to the Cineplex with each feature.
The Prestige is a classy, thinking person’s picture with the kind of complicated plot that will have you analyzing for days. It begs for repeated viewings and will likely get them from moviegoers who want to crack Nolan’s own theatrical magic trick.
Studio: Newmarket Films
Length: 135 Minutes
Rating: PG-13 for violence and disturbing images.
Theatrical Release: October 20, 2006
Directed by: Christopher Nolan
Written by: Jonathan Nolan & Christopher Nolan. Based upon the book by Christopher Priest.
Cast: Hugh Jackman, Christian Bale, Michael Caine, Piper Perabo, Rebecca Hall, Scarlett Johansson