Andy Serkis, David Bowie and Hugh Jackman in the The Prestige
Director, Christopher Nolan scores big with The Prestige. Read on:
Cinematic sleight-of-hand is a tough thing to pull off these days. No matter how secretive or sophisticated a filmmaker’s approach might be, there are always folks savvy (not to mention cynical) enough to figure out what’s happening long before any of their fellow filmgoers. And that is what makes The Prestige the ultimate movie magic trick.
As the film’s dialogue suggests, the true purpose of magic is not to trick or deceive, but rather to convince an audience that “something” can appear to be “something else” entirely. Written and directed by Christopher Nolan, the man responsible for the misdirection-filled Memento, this idea is elevated to new artistic heights — even as it temporarily appears to be just another tool in a master storyteller’s arsenal.
The film stars Christian Bale (Batman Begins) as Alfred Borden, an aspiring illusionist with tricks to spare, but hardly enough panache to sustain an audience’s attention. Meanwhile, his colleague, Robert Angier (Hugh Jackman), has plenty of stage presence, but not enough chops to make it as a legitimate magician. The two quickly become embroiled in a battle of wills for domination of London’s stages. But when their competition results in the accidental death of a loved one, the longtime rivalry escalates and threatens to destroy both men — not only professionally, but personally.
There’s no good reason to reveal any more about the film, unless you are one of those savvy (not to mention cynical) folks who prefers to have all of a film’s secrets spoiled before stepping into a theater. That said, The Prestige adds up to far more than the sum of its parts. This is largely due to Nolan’s script, co-written by his brother Jonathan, which functions simultaneously as an expose into antiquated magic tricks and a testament to the fact that almost all of them still work. But the careful construction of characters is what keeps the film tethered to its emotional center.
Bale, a masterful actor capable of incredible subtlety and power, portrays Alfred as the ultimate purist — an artist who barely needs an audience to feed his work except as a sort of last-ditch commercial crutch. Jackman, on the other hand, exploits his own theatrical experience to play a performer who courts attention — indeed, he craves it — and whose determination to learn Alfred’s secrets is connected to personal desperation as much as professional envy.
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