The Prestige is never anything less than intriguing. Right from the beginning, the film is a mystery, forcing the viewer to take a closer look. “Are you watching closely?”, a voice-over proclaims as we are introduced to stage engineer John Cutter (Michael Caine), who tells the viewer every magic trick has three acts: The pledge, the turn and the prestige. Interestingly, the components of a magic trick reflect the structure of the film.
Robert Angier (Hugh Jackman) and Alfred Borden (Christian Bale) are rival magicians in the early 1900s, who are both desperate to perform the perfect illusion. The film is told in a nonlinear narrative, exploring themes of obsession and secrecy, which ultimately dominate these men.
The dizzying narrative in The Prestige is all part of the viewing experience. It’s not as complex as Nolan’s other films such as Interstellar (2014), but the film does require your full attention. There are many flashbacks showing Angier and Borden building their careers as magicians. Although the film is set in the Victorian era, it doesn’t feel like a typical period drama. Due to the magician’s conflict, the setting becomes a secondary element.
The relationship between Angier and Borden is the most intriguing aspect of the entire film. They are both morally grey characters, who are consumed by their desire to be the greatest magician. Angier becomes enraged and obsessed with Borden’s seemingly impossible trick, “The Transported Man”. Does Borden really transport himself or does he use a double? Angier’s rage borders on madness, as he desperately tries to figure out the secret. Hugh Jackman is great in the role. The story unfolds in gripping fashion as the two men continuously sabotage each other’s acts.
Nothing is as it seems in The Prestige. The film’s magic and trickery lead you to question what you are watching. Packed with intriguing and thought-provoking twists, I would be very surprised if anyone managed to figure out the main one, which makes you reconsider the entire film.
Just as impressive as the film’s absorbing story is the brilliant cast. Scarlett Johansson portrays Angier’s assistant Olivia Wenscombe, and although she only has a relatively small part, she is a solid addition to the film. Michael Caine’s portrayal as the father-like mentor is a type of role we have seen him play many times. But he is so good in these roles, always offering words of wisdom.
Although the film has a dark and mysterious tone, it does have its fair share of comedic moments as well. And despite the fact that magic has been explored countless times in cinema, The Prestige is astonishingly original. Here Nolan combines entertainment with genuine art and intellect.
There is no dazzling special effects or action of any kind, but rather a close interrogation of the lives of two competing magicians. It is a very compelling film that is sure to stay on your mind after the end credits.
Quoted: “Now you’re looking for the secret. But you won’t find it because of course, you’re not really looking. You don’t really want to work it out. You want to be fooled.”
Written and directed by: Christopher Nolan
Stars: Christian Bale, Hugh Jackman, Scarlett Johansson
Distributor: Warner Bros. (World-wide)
Run Time: 130 min