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The Prestige (A Movie Review)


Starring Christian Bale, Hugh Jackman, Michael Caine, Scarlett Johansson, Rebecca Hall, Piper Perabo, Samantha Mahurin, David Bowie, Andy Serkis, Daniel Davis, Jim Piddock, Christopher Neame, Mark Ryan, Roger Rees, Jamie Harris, Edward Hibbert and Ricky Jay.

Screenplay by Christopher Nolan.

Directed by Christopher Nolan.

Distributed by Newmarket Films. 128 minutes. Rated PG-13.

It's weird how sometimes, for no apparent reason, two movies are made which seem to be about the same subject. In the last year alone, we've had two Capote biopics, two new versions of The Poseidon Adventure and now two movies looking at the worlds of magic in the Victorian era. First there was The Illusionist with Edward Norton, Paul Giamatti and Jessica Biel – a film which I must admit I've not seen, so I can't say how much it is really similar to this second entry in the historical-magic fantasies.

I will say that I did enjoy The Prestige, Christopher (Batman Returns, Memento) Nolan's look at two rival conjurors who enter a blood feud due to personal slights and professional jealousy.

The Prestige is a puzzle-box of a film, a perfect case of screenwriting as sleight-of-hand. The movie is constantly calling your attention to the left hand while pulling the trick with the right.

The movie starts with an aging magician and builder of tricks (Michael Caine), who breaks down every magic trick. There is "the pledge," which is just the dull setup. That is followed by "the turn," the point in which the audience is shown something extraordinary is coming from what they thought was mundane. Finally comes "the prestige," the twist which ups the ante when the audience thought they had already been fooled.

This little lesson in the basics of magic not only explains the tricks, but also the twists and turns of the story. The plot revolves around two magicians who had worked with Caine's character.

Hugh Jackman plays Robert Angier, a master showman, but who has trouble when it comes to creating tricks. Christopher Bale is Alfred Borden, who has a brilliant mind for illusions but no stage presence. Angier is sort of the Salieri to Borden's Mozart in the tango of retribution. The two start a long-standing rivalry when just starting out together, when one may be partially responsible for the other's wife's death. However, the feud long outlasts this tragedy, with both of them obsessively looking to outdo and injure the other, willing to destroy anyone who gets in the way.

I don't think The Prestige will go over well in the magic world. First of all, the movie lets out the secrets of some of the tricks. While the filmmakers probably thought it would be interesting to audiences as a detailed look at the art and the lifestyle, a friend of mine who is a magician assures me that giving up the mechanics of other magicians' tricks is never okay.

Also, the ending is a bit of a disappointment, greatly because it turns out the whole plot and even the genre of the film turns out to be something much different than it was claiming to be. (I can't go into greater detail, because I, also, do not want to give away another's sleight of hand.) I know that misdirection is the whole point of a good magic trick, but it still feels like a bit of a cheat. However, even if the prestige fails to quite work, the movie is still a pretty impressive deception. (11/06)

Jay S. Jacobs

Copyright ©2006 All rights reserved. Posted: October 22, 2006.

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