Review by Jack Foley
DVD SPECIAL FEATURES: The Director’s Notebook; Theatrical Trailer.
CHRISTOPHER Nolan has already delivered some magical movies in his short career (Memento, Insomnia, Batman Begins) so it’s little wonder to find that he pulls off yet another neat trick with this intricate tale of rival magicians.
Elaborately staged yet brilliantly low-key, The Prestige is a clever piece of filmmaking that takes the form of its own dark magic trick.
Based on the book by Christopher Priest, it functions as an intriguing Victorian murder-mystery and a fascinating exploration of obsession, that’s anchored by some strong performances.
The film begins as celebrated stage magician Alfred Borden (Christian Bale) stands accused of the murder of fellow showman Rupert Angier (Hugh Jackman).
The crime isn’t as simple as it seems, however, and the ensuing film follows the events leading up to the tragedy as the magicians turn from friends to rivals in search of the greatest trick.
As with Memento, Nolan employs a fractured approach to storytelling, refusing to allow things to unfold chronologically and subsequently keeping the audience on its feet. He also employs some willful mis-direction to preserve the integrity of the twists (or big reveals).
But he’s also well-served by some fine performances, not least from Jackman and Bale as two characters who are flip-sides of the same coin.
Jackman is the more outwardly charismatic of the two and knows how to deliver the spectacle of the trick, while Bale is quietly menacing as the more brilliant magician who regularly makes sacrifices on behalf of his craft.
The battle of wills that develops between them is both sinister and amusing as both try to upstage each other in increasingly dangerous and outrageous ways.
Providing reliable support is Michael Caine as Cutter, a man who designs illusions for a living and who frequently finds himself torn between his former pupils. It’s another masterly performance from the popular veteran.
David Bowie (sporting a strange accent) is good value as a famous magician who helps Angier develop the ultimate trick, while Scarlett Johansson and Rebecca Hall provide separate love interests and contribute to the intrigue.
It is to Nolan’s credit, however, that the film constantly keeps us guessing and manages to avoid the potential pitfalls of its period setting, for the director has clearly worked hard to ensure it retains a contemporary feel.
By shooting much of the footage on hand-held cameras, there’s a sense of immediacy that helps to keep things moving forward and which places less of an emphasis on period detail and more on the lives of its characters. It’s also refreshingly free of needless special effects.
The script – which the director co-wrote with brother Jonathan – is smart, witty and consistently insightful and contributes to a final twist that’s well worth waiting for. Indeed, it may even prompt the desire for a repeat viewing – as this is the kind of magic that has plenty more to offer once its secrets have been revealed.
Nolan, once again, proves himself to be a masterful illusionist.
Running time: 2hrs 10mins