Rating: 5 out of 5
That's four swings and four home runs for Christopher Nolan, who remains perfect having helmed an amnesic identity crisis (Memento), an atmospheric Northwestern noir (Insomnia), and the rebirth of a cherished superhero (Batman Begins). If the writer-director answers every nagging question that's raised - and the more I think about it, the more convinced I am that he does - then The Prestige is the wunderkind director's latest in a growing line of masterpieces.
Prestige refers to the third act of a magic trick, the point when the performer reveals a sleight of hand before a baffled crowd. Finding the perfect prestige is what drives turn-of-the-century magicians Robert Angier (Hugh Jackman) and Alfred Borden (Christian Bale).
Nolan worked with his brother, Jonathan, to adapt Christopher Priest's tight period novel. They craft an opening that grabs us by the throat and tosses us right into Angier and Borden's vicious conflict. And I can't tell you a thing about it. Discussing the plot of Prestige is impossible without ruining at least three surprises that await you. Let's just say the movie starts with Borden on trial for Angier's murder and fills in the complicated pieces that bring the men to this pivotal point.
The story flows on the magicians' competitive juices. Prestige builds its rivalry on tragedy, captivating us with its well-paced central mystery. Across the board, the performances are phenomenal. Bale, tapping into his sinister charms, is poised to wrestle the crown of smoldering versatility from Edward Norton (who hasn't used it in some time). Jackman is a proper foil, the magician we think we should root for but can't until all the cards hit the table. Scene-stealer Michael Caine brings his crisp wit and demure personality to the feud. The film's female roles are underwritten - Nolan consistently envisions stronger male characters and treats the women as narrative afterthoughts. Piper Perabo does what she can with her limited screen time, while a miscast Scarlett Johansson appears too Laguna Beach for London in the late 1800s.
Following the definition laid out in Prestige, Nolan reveals he's a bit of a magician himself. He shows us something we've never seen before. He hides his secrets well, and dazzles us with his expert showmanship. Prestige is a stimulating breath of fresh air blowing through multiplexes clogged with tired remakes and unnecessary sequels. It weaves such an original story that, for the first time this year, I honestly had no clue what would happen next. Inevitably, there's a slight notion of disappointment as the film's answers are revealed, but it's a marginal price to pay for the time spent on this thrilling roller coaster.
Take note, though. Nolan loves telling stories out of order - his heralded Memento runs in reverse - and the classy Prestige skips forward and back but proves easy to follow. Nolan doesn't ignore surface pleasures like gorgeous production values, proper period costuming, and electrifying sets. It's a sign of a gifted storyteller when all these facets are attended to with care. Prestige is stunningly handsome, but don't let your eyes wander too deep into the scenery or you'll likely miss an important twist.
Yeah yeah, I'll pull a rabbit outta my hat after I dig this hole.
Facts and Figures
In Theaters: Friday 20th October 2006
Box Office USA: $53.0M
Box Office Worldwide: $109.7M
Distributed by: Buena Vista Pictures
Production compaines: Syncopy, Touchstone Pictures, Warner Bros., Newmarket Productions
Contactmusic.com: 5 / 5
Rotten Tomatoes: 76%
Fresh: 142 Rotten: 46
IMDB: 8.5 / 10
Cast & Crew
Director: Christopher Nolan
Producer: William Tyrer, Chris J. Ball, Valerie Dean
Screenwriter: Christopher Nolan, Jonathan Nolan
Starring: Hugh Jackman as Robert Angier, Christian Bale as Alfred Borden, Michael Caine as Cutter, Scarlett Johansson as Olivia Wenscombe, Andy Serkis as Alley, David Bowie as Nikola Tesla, Piper Perabo as Julia McCullough, Rebecca Hall as Sarah Borden, Daniel Davis as Judge, Roger Rees as Owens
Also starring: Christopher Nolan