Film Review: The Prestige


The Prestige

After reading a cagey article in Empire about Christopher Nolan’s new film The Prestige (from the book by Christopher Priest), I was eager to go and see it before reviews, and friends, started ‘accidently’ giving away the plot. Not to mention that Nolan (Batman Begins, Memento) is one of the more interesting mainstream directors out there. If you haven’t see it yet, I recommend you stop reading now and get thee hence to the nearest cinema—while I won’t be giving anything away, this is a film best enjoyed with as little foreknowledge as possible.

For those of you still with me, The Prestige explores the bitter rivalry between two turn-of-the-century stage magicians, Robert Angier (Hugh Jackman), and Alfred Borden (Christian Bale). The tragic outcome of a trick turns these colleagues into enemies, driving in a wedge that, as the years pass, further prises apart their already very different personalities. Angier is the showman desperate to discover the secret of his rival’s greatest trick ‘The Transported Man’, Borden the intense and obsessive magician lacking flair but wholely committed to his art. Cutter (Michael Caine), an ‘ingeneur’ (a man who designs new tricks for magicians) and Olivia (Scarlett Johansson), an assistant, are both drawn ever further into the obsessive competition between them.

The Prestige is one of the most satisfying cinema experiences I have had for years; a film that—at last— doesn’t treat me like an idiot, but trusts in my ability and willingness to go along for the magical ride. In typical Nolan form, the plot weaves and jumps back and forth through its timeline, slowly building up a collage of mystery and obssession that captivates and entrances. The acting is excellent (Hugh Jackman’s most impressive turn to date); the production flawless, the period atmosphere heavy. Even David Bowie surprises with his best work as the softly spoken inventor Nikolas Tesla.

Also worth noting is the minimalist, threatening music by David Julyan; I was surprised to discover he wasn’t responsible for Batman Begins (though he did do the music on Memento and Insomnia), because a similar dark build-up of chords is used here to equally strong effect.
Best of all, the plot keeps you guessing. I thought I had worked it all out up until the last ten minutes, when all my presuppositions were shattered. We walked out of the cinema comparing notes, discussing the plot, looking for holes and weighing each other’s impressions; the sure sign of a thought-provoking and intelligent film. I look forward to enjoying its rich detail again and again on DVD.

But don’t let me give anything away—go see The Prestige now, before some so-called ‘friend’ can’t help themself and gives away a crucial plot point!

Four and a half canaries out of five.

4 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. anaglyph
    Nov 25, 2006 @ 13:39:56

    ***Warning – Spoiler Alert****
    It’s interesting to see such a phenomenal cast in such an under-trumpeted film. I did like the film very much, but it has to be said that the performances were a little uneven. Christian Bale wafts in and out of his accent with careless abandon, and there are times when the onscreen chemistry is astonishing to be deflated a scene or two later by very flat performances. Given the intricacies of the plot, this is not too surprising I guess.
    I didn’t like the music much, I have to say. I did think that Richard King’s sound design was immaculate (unsurprisingly) but I found the music a little too constant, and often laid in under scenes where I just didn’t think it was needed. Like the performances though, there were times when it worked a treat.
    Overall though, quite a film, with some of the most delightful moments I’ve seen in a long time, and quite a few shocks as well (I loved the playout of the Disappearing Bird Cage trick – I jumped outta my seat). Bowie was nicely understated, and his Tesla possibly has the best onscreen reveal since Orson Welles’ Harry Lime in The Third Man.
    Nuff said. Four & a half ligntning bolts out of five. For once we concur!

  2. Universal Head
    Nov 25, 2006 @ 15:37:59

    Excellent points Pete!

  3. James Wallis
    Dec 08, 2006 @ 09:52:02

    Now read the book. It’s the same but very different, and you will not end up feeling cheated by either the film or the book.

  4. Universal Head
    Dec 08, 2006 @ 10:25:01

    Excellent – I was wondering about that. I will.