Director: Christopher Nolan
Cast: Hugh Jackman, Christian Bale, Michael Caine, Scarlett Johansson, Rebecca Hall, Andy Serkis, Piper Perabo, David Bowie
Plot: At the turn of the 20th century, Robert Angier, his wife, Julia McCullough and Alfred Borden are friends and assistants of a magician. When Julia is accidentally drowned, Robert blames Alfred for tying too tight of a knot and the two become enemies. Now the two magicians are constantly trying to 1-up and sabotage each other. When Alfred pulls off a successful magic trick, Robert becomes obsessed with discovering his secret.
(Wanring! This review may contain spoilers! Consider yourselves warned)
First Thoughts: After Batman Begins was so successful, Christopher Nolan was beginning to become a household name, but he wasn’t quite there yet. A year after the release of Batman Begins, Nolan was brought on to direct this film. The odd thing is, despite Nolan’s name and the cast list being one of the best in his entire filmography, the film wasn’t really all that successful, despite making back it’s $40 million budget. But over ten years since it’s theatrical release, The Prestige has become one of Nolan’s most beloved films, and certainly one of my favourites.
Story: It’s hard to talk about the story of this film without ruining everything, so if you weren’t already turned away by that spoiler warning, now’s your chance to leave. Okay, here we go. First off, I love the way that this story is told. It’s a very Nolan-esque way of telling a story, starting off near the end of the film where Borden is being accused of Angier’s death when he drowns in a water tank. The film then proceeds to unfold through journal entries from both Angier and Borden. And the film just gets more and more fascinating from there. You see how at first, the two are friends, but when Angier’s wife accidentally drowns and he blames Borden, the two magicians strive to one-up each other, with both of them attempting to pull off the perfect magic trick. And if you’ve seen the movie, you know exactly where this ends up. You find out that Angier’s trick, The Real Transported Man, could actually clone him and he uses this to his advantage and this leads him to frame Borden and assume a new identity. You also find out that Borden’s original take on the Transported man utilized his twin/body double, Fallon. So, what exactly is happening? Well, Fallon (disguised as Borden) sneaks below stage to find out how Angier is really pulling off his trick. When he’s framed for Angier’s death, he is sentenced to death and is hanged at the end of the movie. Now, Borden (disguised as Fallon) sneaks into the basement of the theatre where Angier performed his trick and shoots Angier. Borden then explains his methods as Angier dies, and as Borden is leaving, he notices the water tanks around him are filled with Angier’s clones that resulted from the use of the machine that Tesla made for Angier. If all of this is confusing, maybe it’s time for you to rewatch the movie. In all seriousness though, I think this is one of Nolan’s most cerebral movies and it really forces you to think and analyse it, and I love that about this movie.
Technical: Like I said with the other Nolan films I’ve reviewed, no matter what, his movies are going to look beautiful, and The Prestige is absolutely no exception, as Wally Phister’s cinematography is once again fantastic, and it actually remains one of Nolan’s best looking films in regards to how it’s shot. The film’s production design is also fantastic and really captures the time period extremely well. It’s really no wonder that both the cinematography and production design got Oscar nominations. Sorry that I don’t really have much to say about the film’s technical qualities, but I feel like there isn’t really that much to say.
Performances: In my opinion, The Prestige has probably the best cast Nolan has assembled to date. I mean, you’ve got Wolverine, Batman, Black Widow, Alfred Pennyworth, Maya Hansen, Gollum and Ziggy Stardust all in the same movie. How could you possibly go wrong? In all seriousness though, every actor in this movie shines and it’s really hard to point out one specific actor as the standout of the movie. Hugh Jackman is pretty much always great in everything he’s in, and that’s no exception as his character is very tormented by the death of his wife and becomes increasingly more jealous of Christian Bale’s character, who seems to have the happiness that he was robbed of. Christian Bale is also phenomenal and you can tell that his obsession is taking a hold of him just as much as it is for Hugh Jackman’s character. The entire supporting cast is great as well, but there are definitely two performances that standout among the supporting players, that of Andy Serkis and the late David Bowie. First of all, how many mainstream roles can you think of where Andy Serkis isn’t doing motion capture? Thought so. Second, David Bowie is surprisingly great as real life electrical engineer Nikola Tesla, and seeing him on screen as one of history’s most revered scientists is something so unexpected that it’s actually brilliant.
Final Thoughts: If it wasn’t apparent already, I think The Prestige is a masterpiece among an already impressive filmography. There’s just something so magical about this film that I just absolutely love. If it looks like I’m running out of things to say… well, I am. All I’ll say is that if it’s been a while since you’ve seen The Prestige, I’d highly recommend watching it again.
- Top-notch performances across the board
- Nearly perfect direction
- Gorgeous cinematography
- Perfectly realized setting
- A story that keeps you guessing throughout
- One hell of a chilling final shot
Overall Grade: 10/10