The Prestige

The Prestige

****

Reviewed by: Angus Wolfe Murray

Abracadabra!

Once magic was an art; now it's a craft. Tricks can be copied, or learnt from books. Conjurers have lost their sense of wonder because science has proved to be more astonishing than sawing a lady's legs off, or stuffing doves down your trousers.

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At the turn of the century-before-last, magic was about invention. Performers vied with each other to create the next Most Amazing Thing. It was a time of innovation and competitive zeal. Incredulity became the challenge. And there was money to be made.

The Prestige captures this mood perfectly. Its problem is layering the illusion so thick that reality pales into insignificance. It begins with a murder trial and ends with a murder. Is that symmetry, or a trick of the light?

It is the story of a rivalry. Two magicians work the London theatres as a double act, until a tragic accident splits them apart. The American Angier (Hugh Jackman) has charisma and stage presence. The Englishman Borden (Christian Bale) has technique and a genius for new ideas.

The team that dazzled cinemagoers with Memento (2000), brothers Christopher and Jonathan Nolan, have adapted Christopher Priest's novel and, as you would expect, it is far from simple. The words "half," "clever" and "too" come to mind.

At the centre or, at least, lurking backstage in every scene change of this Victorian melodrama, is Cutter (Michael Caine, once again superb), who appears to be the trickmaker, the manager, the eminence grise. Beyond his sphere of influence, plotting against each other, are the protagonists, searching the deep recesses of their imagination for "real magic". Borden might have found it with his Transportation of Man trick until Angier spends a fortune on a reclusive American inventor (David Bowie), who is experimenting with electricity.

Some films envelope you, others baffle you. The Prestige is a mixture of the two. It looks terrific and does what Terry Gilliam's The Brothers Grimm should have done, but didn't - it gives the illusionists lives outside their vaudevillian personas. Also, the performances of Bale and Rebecca Hall, as Borden's wife Sarah, are beyond the call of duty.

This is a film that works best after it is over, when you have a chance to fit the pieces together. As with a favourite jigsaw, some of the pieces are missing, but it doesn't spoil the enjoyment.

Reviewed on: 08 Nov 2006
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A tale of bitter rivalry between two 19th century magicians.
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Read more The Prestige reviews:

Sam Moore *****
Chris ****

Director: Christopher Nolan

Writer: Jonathan Nolan, Christopher Nolan, based on the novel by Christopher Priest

Starring: Hugh Jackman, Christian Bale, Michael Caine, Piper Perabo, Rebecca Hall, Scarlett Johansson, Samantha Mahurin, David Bowie, Andy Serkis

Year: 2006

Runtime: 128 minutes

BBFC: 12A - Adult Supervision

Country: US/UK

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