Set in Victorian London at the turn-of-the century where magicians are idols, two young but very different magicians set out to carve their own paths to fame. Robert Angier (Hugh Jackman) is a consummate entertainer-flashy, sophisticated and a true showman-while Alfred Borden (Christian Bale) is a roughedged creative purist who lacks the panache to showcase his tricks. As friends and partners they provide the perfect combination but when one of their tricks goes terribly wrong, friends become enemies and an escalating battle of one-upmanship begins with ever increasing perils to those around them.
After taking moviegoers into the astonishing worlds of dark superheroes and anterograde amnesia director Christopher Nolan enchants audiences with a twisting tale set in the realm of the arcane. In addition to Hugh Jackman, Christian Bale, Scarlett Johansson and Michael Caine, the all-star cast of The Prestige includes David Bowie as Nikola Tesla, an enigmatic inventor responsible for revolutionary scientific work in electricity and magnetism and Piper Perabo as Julia Angier, magician and wife of Robert Angier.
The Prestige Main Cast
... Robert Angier
... Alfred Borden
... Julia Angier
... Sarah Borden
... Olivia Wenscombe
... Nikola Tesla
The Prestige is either a "love it" or "hate it" film. The film is told in non-linear fashion, is a period piece and has both fantasy and science fiction elements to it. The film opens with an explanation of the three parts of an illusion: The Pledge, The Turn and The Prestige. The Pledge is the setup which appears straightforward, but is likely anything but. The film only takes minutes to set up The Pledge with a glimpse of what looks to be a straightforward ending. The Turn is next where the illusion is "dressed up" and staged. The Turn makes up the bulk of the film where the nonlinear presentation and other means of misdirection keep the audience off-balance. The Prestige is the payoff of the illusion, which serves the climax of the film as Borden and Angier's stories intersect one last time.
Near the end of the film, Ackerman instructs Cutter and Angier to dress their "real magic" up just enough to give the audience room to wonder and have a sense of mystery about what they just witnessed. With the character of Borden, Nolan goes through the three parts of the illusion with a big reveal for The Prestige. The progression of this character is what bears repeated viewing to pick up the elements of The Turn. As it shakes out, Angier mostly serves as the misdirection of The Turn, but the conclusion of his story mirrors Ackerman's advice. The conclusion to Borden's story is cut and dried with a poignant observation, but The Prestige for Angeir leaves a little something unexplained for the audience to ponder long after the film is over.
Christian Bale delivers what is becoming his typical performance in which his character (Borden here) always seems to be holding something back (think Batman Beyond and even American Psycho) from everyone. Hugh Jackman mostly coasts through his role, only coming alive when the Great Danton (Angier) takes to the stage to perform his magic before his audience. Michael Caine actually carries his scenes with Jackman, but Cutter is unfortunately a second tier character to Angier and Borden. David Bowie and Andy Serkis add that science fiction element to the film as the eccentric Nikolai Tesla and his assistant Alley. Bowie is almost unrecognizable as he disappears into Tesla, a character who is mysterious and thus onscreen just enough to intrigue. The three actresses also bring a mixed effort. Piper Perabo as the charismatic Julia Angier is gone from the film far too quickly. Rebecca Hall delivers, but like Cutter her character is clearly second tier. Scarlett Johansson is the billed female lead, but is disappointing as Olivia. When her character quietly drops out of the story, she is barely missed.
The real star of the film is the storytelling and Nolan's direction. Nolan immerses the audience in nineteenth century Victorian England by bringing to life a charotic and urbanized London. Interspersed is some beautiful outdoor cinematography of rural Colorado. Because of the nature of the complex plot, the film cannot afford to have the acting overshadow the story, which is why the average performances can be tolerated. The film has a mostly unhappy ending, but it's what the films calls for. if you're looking for a film dominated by great acting, a straightforward story and a clean ending with no loose ends, then you might want to look elsewhere. If you're looking for a film that brings a sense of wonder, keeps you guessing and continues to provoke you after it ends, then The Prestige fits the bill.
After all, magic and illusion is all about the presentation and that air of mystery.
The DVD includes two extras: an art gallery and The Director's Notebook. The Director's Notebook is twenty minutes long and broken in five segments, but has disappointingly little to offer in the way of insightful content. It basically is a promotional featurette.
The Prestige DVD Extras:
- The Director's Notebook: The Cinematic Sleight of Hand of Christoper Nolan: [20:00]