Directed by: Christopher Nolan
Starring: Hugh Jackman, Christian Bale, Michael Caine, Scarlett Johansson, Rebecca Hall, David Bowie
Rated: PG-13 for violence and disturbing images.
Parental Notes: This is not a film for youngsters — they will likely be both confused and frightened. Teens with an interest in magic and in films that have plenty of plot twists will probably enjoy it.
Writer/director Christopher Nolan and his brother and co-writer Jonathan Nolan are probably best known for the film “Memento,” a ground breaking, mind bending film noir. The Nolans’ new film, “The Prestige,” is not nearly as innovative, but it’s definitely a mind-bender and just what fans of Nolan and his brother are likely to be looking for. It follows two obsessed men and examines in detail just how far they will go in the pursuit of their rivalry. It’s not a feel-good film, but it is utterly fascinating and not your usual mind-numbing megaplex fare.
The two main characters meet as young men assisting a popular stage magician. It’s the late 1800s in London, and stage magicians are all the rage. Alfred Borden (Christian Bale) is a talented magician but a poor showman, while Rupert Angier (Hugh Jackman) is a flawless showman but only a competent magician. They begin as friendly rivals but become bitter enemies when Borden appears to cause Angier’s wife to drown on stage during a show. Angier takes a modicum of revenge on Borden by slipping a real bullet into his gun during a trick and taking off two of the Borden’s fingers.
Things turn even uglier when Borden debuts an absolutely stunning trick: he seemingly transports himself across the stage with impossible speed. When neither Angier nor his gadget-builder Cutter (Michael Caine) can figure out how Borden is doing it, Angier becomes completely obsessed with duplicating the trick. As Borden and Angier go to greater and greater lengths in their rivalry, the plot twists begin to pile up. What makes it work is that these two men are professional pretenders: their entire lives are tied up in tricking the people around them, including us.
There are countless tiny clues and moments of foreshadowing scattered through the film, so when the twists are revealed they ring true. As the truths behind the various lies in the film are revealed, Borden and Angier are revealed as not the young, full-of-potential, aspiring magicians we thought they were but in truth damaged, somewhat insane, and very dangerous men.
“The Prestige” is packed with a surprising amount of skill; the Nolans are top-notch at what they do, and the main actors in the film are very talented. The cinematography is solid, bringing us the cold, crisp air of the Colorado mountains, the grimy world of performers in London, and the futuristic laboratory of Nikola Tesla (David Bowie, who really ought to act more, he’s fantastic) in equally compelling fashion.
This is not a film to see when you just want to relax. The story is broken into three chunks which are then interwoven to keep us in suspense. There’s also a bookend scene, broken in half to start and conclude the film. You have to be paying sharp attention to make sure you know what is happening when. It’s also full of nasty twists, one of which has a certain amount of existential horror to it,. The film leaves one with a sort of empty feeling, similar to the way one might feel after learning how a particularly amazing magic trick was accomplished. If, however, you are looking for a film that will keep you on your toes and won’t offer you the same old bland Hollywood pap, you will not be disappointed.