Christopher Nolan’s The Prestige is a story of obsession and sacrifice and stars Hugh Jackman and Christian Bale as two up and coming magicians whose lives are transformed into an increasingly disastrous struggle of one-upmanship following a tragedy on stage. Each tries to out wit and out trick the other by disrupting each others acts, leading the other down blind alleyways and twisting reality through illusion and showmanship.
Mirroring the rest of Nolan’s filmography, The Prestige is a smart and beautiful film that is full of big ideas, well explored themes and unexpected twists and reveals. Nolan appears to take great delight in playing with his audience and treating them as intelligent equals, almost leading them along with him, through his twisted and mystifying subjects, knowing that by the time they reach the other side they will thank him for it. Nolan’s films are about ideas and he doesn’t shy away from presenting them to the audience without subtlety. Where he is perhaps more subtle is in his delivery which as usual is pitch perfect here.
For around half of the film I was annoyed with myself as I was convinced that I had worked out two major plot twists and as it turned out I was right. What I should have known though is that Nolan probably expected some of his audience to be able to work them out and much like a magic trick, as we’re distracted with feeling smug about spotting one trick he pulls out an elephant from under his top hat which leaves everyone flabbergasted. Even though I did predict a couple of quite sizeable twists, when they arrived I wasn’t disappointed as they were so well crafted that I forgave their obviousness. Also, as I previously said with Nolan, as you’re watching his right hand he smacks you with the left and still has time to steal your watch.
The story itself, twists, tricks and reveals aside is superbly enjoyable and fascinating. The theme of obsession to the point of it having a detrimental effect on your life and those around you was well handled and the rivalry was very well done too. I also liked the parallel rivalry between Nicola Tesla (a man I have a lot of time for) and Thomas Edison (who if you look deeply enough into, was responsible for the founding of Hollywood as what it is today). Their side story perfectly mirrors the central characters and also allows David Bowie to make a surprise appearance in a role that he plays extremely well. The character of the Chinese magician also worked as a wonderful metaphor for the theme of misdirection although he helped me to work out some of the twists as I kept thinking back to his appearance.
The film is beautifully shot as always by the magnificent Wally Pfister. Well known for his work with Christopher Nolan, Pfister brings to life late 19th Century London and its theatres. The external scenes are busy and well dressed but not in a fake looking way and the streets hum with activity. Scenes featuring Hugh Jackman in Colorado are also very attractive with one foggy scene in particular looking extraordinary. The cast also is first rate with A List star after A List star appearing. Nolan regular Christian Bale slips into his role like vets arm in a whale’s vagina, looking comfortable and at ease at all times. It feels like he doesn’t inhabit the role but he is the role. Another frequent Nolan alumni, and go to father/teacher/mentor Michael Caine is the star of the show for me. His speeches make you sit up and take note and he still has his trademark delivery which sounds awesome here. Hugh Jackman too is very good, playing off type and he is joined by Andy Serkis who is also excellent. A lot of the cast work in accents which are not their own and none are let down by this. Scarlett Johansson whose yellow basque scene reclaims top spot inside my brain from Mila Kunis is also very good and performs with an English accent which luckily avoids the traditional American attempts to sound like the Queen on her way home from the dentist. On a side note I was convinced that Sam Rockwell was in the film but was wrong. Very wrong.
It is difficult to discuss some of the finer points of this film given its duplicitous nature but I’ll finish by saying that I was blown away by its story, its look and its satisfying conclusion. I preferred it to a couple of Nolan’s other films, all of which I’ve enjoyed immensely and I can’t wait to watch it again.