The Prestige (2006)

DVD Cover (Buena Vista Home Entertainment)
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Set in London in the 1800s, two rival magicians read each others diary containing the secrets of their magic tricks and personal life. As we go back in time when the diaries were written, both magicians become obsessed with their rival's best trick. The tricks, as shown to the audience, look the same, but neither magician can figure out how his opponent does it. --IMDb
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Review by bluemeanie
Added: October 28, 2006
Magic seems to be hot these days, especially in motion pictures. "The Illusionist", one of the best films of 2006, has received rave critical reviews and has exploded at the box office, pushing it out as a possible Oscar hopeful - accolades it truly deserves. The performances and the production were top-notch. "The Prestige" is the second film about magic to come out in the past couple of months, following on the heels of the aforementioned "The Illusionist". This second films finds itself in the more than capable hands of Christopher Nolan, one of the most innovative, creative and thoroughly entertaining directors around, having already given us "Memento", "Insomnia", and the latest superhero sequel "Batman Begins". With "The Prestige", Nolan gets to tackle subject matter that makes twelve-year-old boys froth at the mouth. He gets to play around with the same kind of spellbinding aura that made Houdini so popular, in his time. Unlike "The Illusionist", however, the themes found within "The Prestige" are dark and frightening. We see everything that rests on the underbelly of the profession of magic, from the rivalry to the lust...to the secrets. By the time the credits rolled, "The Illusionist" was my second favorite film about magic to come out in 2006. By the time the credits rolled, I was fully convinced I had just watched one of the best films of the year, and a film that would sorely be passed over by the Academy Awards, and maybe even audiences.

The film starts with a man called Cutter (Michael Caine) explaining how every magic act has three acts: the pledge, the turn and the prestige. We then see magician Rupert Angier (Hugh Jackman) drowning in a tank of water, and Alfred Borden (Christian Bale) seemingly standing by and watching him die. In "Memento"-esque style, Nolan mixes up the chain of events, gives us flashbacks whenever he sees fit, and always wants to keep us guessing. The crux of the film deals with the heated rivalry between magicians Angier and Borden as they try to one-up one another and become the greatest magician around. After a tragic accident, Angier's hatred for Borden intensifies, and the two men find themselves sneaking into one another's shows just to cause trouble. Angier becomes obsessed with discovering the secret of one of Borden's most popular tricks - The Transported Man trick. His obsession takes him to the United States, where he meets a man named Tesla (David Bowie), who claims to be able to help him in his searchings. Meanwhile, Angier has also sent his beautiful assistant Olivia (Scarlett Johansson) to work for Borden as a spy and bring him back information. Is anything what it seems? The film twists and turns through magic trick after magic trick, through secrets and madness and the occasional bloody end. "The Prestige" is a dark and exciting observation on the lives of two men who will do anything to be better than the other.

As an audience member, it's always a pleasure to see a film that cares as much for its production value as it does the cast and the story. Production design and art direction are a huge part of the cinematic puzzle for me, and "The Prestige" does not disappoint, fully capturing the time and place of the film. Oddly, it reminded me of The Hughes' Brothers superb "From Hell", in terms of the period sets and costumes. Director Christopher Nolan weaves films together like intricate stories, and you always have to watch them a second time to make sure you didn't miss anything. That feeling was missing from "Batman Begins", but has returned in full force with his latest effort, a film that I will go out and say is the favorite of mine from all of his cinematic endeavors. If you're like me, you might start figuring out part of the film pretty early on, but I guarantee you won't solve everything - not a chance. This film takes a bizarre and rather shocking turn towards the end of the film, or the 'prestige' of the film - something that you don't expect and something that makes this film a little more than a period drama. In fact, if you watch the film closely, you'll realize that the film is constructed just like a magic acts - thee acts, each one different and necessary. Take one away, and the act cannot be complete. "The Prestige" reminded me of what it was like to go to the movies and just thoroughly immerse myself in every aspect of the film. That was nice.

As far as performances go, Christopher Nolan has assembled a superb cast. Hugh Jackman delivers the performance of his career as Angier, and he manages to reach a level of madness and obsession on screen that speaks wonders - and then he turns on a dime at the end of the film and breaks your heart with a confession that speaks wonders about everything he does in the film. Christian Bale is like a firecracker as Borden, once again showcasing his amazing range and finding the right balance to make the ending of the film absolutely work. Michael Caine is flawless as Cutter, the old magician who designs the illusion - he looks to be having so much fun here and it's nice when such veteran actors can still be having such passion for this kind of quality material. Scarlett Johansson was equally flawless in her small role as Olivia, but it was David Bowie who just made me smile as the brilliant recluse Tesla. David Bowie rarely makes films anymore, but when does, I am very pleased. I'm not going to lie - he's not right for every role, but he is right for some, and this was certainly one of them. He just adds this mystique and grace to the film - sure, everyone in the audience is thinking, "There's David Bowie" - but, who cares? It's David Bowie! And, yes, that was Golem himself - Andy Serkis - as Tesla's assistant. Who'd have thunk he could act? Ha!

So, what am I going to write now that you've never read before? How about this - "The Prestige" is one of the best films of the year, and the most entertaining film, on the whole, that I have seen in a few years. Okay, so I know I adopt a new yearly favorite every week or so, but it's getting that time of the year. So, maybe this isn't officially 'the prestige' portion of the review, but it will just have to suffice. "The Prestige" kept me smiling from beginning to end, and though I was not wanting the film to end quite the way it did, thinking back on it, the ending was perfect. It did not end on a sad note, a negative note, and it did not do anything unnecessary. The good guy did not win, nor did the bad guy. Can you really tell which is which? I recommend both this and "The Illusionist", but keep in mind - they are two different films entirely. "The Illusionist" is a love story that involves a man and a woman. "The Prestige" is a love story that involves a man and his magic. Don't go into this film expecting the other. Trust me when I say - you will not be disappointed in this film, and you might be absolutely shocked by the turn it takes. Figure that out for yourself.

Tristan #1: Tristan - added January 31, 2007 at 4:09pm
Absolutely brilliant movie. Couldn't have been any better.
waxtadpole3657 #2: waxtadpole3657 - added December 12, 2007 at 1:05am
This is why Christopher Nolan is one of today's best directors.
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