The Prestige


Reviewed by: Sam Moore

The Prestige
"The twists and turns of this film are many and expertly carried out."

I'm going to tell you about a film, and you're going to think you understand it. And then you're going to watch this same film, and still be amazed at what you just saw. The Prestige is a tale about two young magicians in London at the turn of the century. Rupert Angier (Hugh Jackman) and Alfred Borden (Christian Bale) are both apprentices to the same aging stage performer. A tragic accident turns their friendly rivalry into a bitter feud, a perpetual game of one-upmanship where the stakes just get higher and higher. Each consumed by the need to outdo the other, and to avenge prior slights, both men take extraordinary risks not just with their reputations as performers but with the lives of those around them.

In a style somewhat reminiscent of The Usual Suspects, this story is told in retrospect. We are shown the murder of Angier and the trial of Borden for that act, where Borden is sentenced to death. While awaiting his day with the gallows Borden is handed a diary. We discover that it was previously his own, which Angier stole from him to learn his secrets and annotated with notes of his own. It is through this diary that the story is recounted.

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Therein lies an intricate tale of deception and layer upon layer of plots, where the audience is never entirely sure who, if anyone, is winning. Each magician tries to outdo the other until Borden comes up with a trick so amazing that Angier becomes obsessed with uncovering its secret. While he is able to produce a very impressive knock-off (and become the darling of the city in the process) he is certain that Borden's method is something different, perhaps something truly magical. This belief takes him to America to meet Nikolas Tesla (played very appealingly by David Bowie), a misunderstood genius now living in solitude after losing the support of the public for his work with electricity. Going on a note in Borden's diary, Angier commissions Tesla to build him a replica of a machine which he believes Borden is using in his famous act, and which is the last piece of the puzzle. With this machine he will return to the stage and outshine Borden once and for all.

The quality of acting in The Prestige is outstanding. Bale steals the show for the most part, however, Jackman excels in a role quite different from those we're used to seeing him in. Scarlett Johansson is somewhat bland as the assistant-come-mistress Olivia, but then I'm not a fan of her work in general. Rebecca Hall as Borden's wife Sarah delivers far more punch. David Bowie as Tesla is both eccentric and reserved at the same time, giving you a feel for a man whose dreams have been crushed. Michael Caine does an excellent job as Cutter, the one man both Borden and Angier respect, and it's his performance which ties most of the pivotal scenes of the movie together. I wouldn't be surprised to see a few awards handed out as a result of this cast's performance.

The twists and turns of this film are many and expertly carried out. In so many other films you might see the twist coming, or when it arrives it seems entirely implausible. Not so with The Prestige – the dozens of minor twists are all so well fitted to the characters and plot that they all blend in seamlessly and make you want to clap your hands, not scratch your head.

You really are kept guessing - about the motives of the characters, about who the 'Good Guy' is, about whether one or both of the men have gone too far. When the final twist comes your mouth will likely be hanging open. This is what is so engaging about The Prestige – it's a big budget movie, with all the Hollywood stars who are so in fashion right now, and yet it's clever.

The whole film is itself like a magic trick, broken down into its three parts (The Pledge, The Turn and The Prestige), and while you're looking in one direction it delivers from another. This notion of misdirection, of never quite letting you see the whole deck of cards, creates a brilliant atmosphere within which the plot can unfold and keep you genuinely at the edge of your seat.

Reviewed on: 06 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:

Chris ****
Angus Wolfe Murray ****

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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