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The Prestige – film review

June 26, 2014


Instant genre classic well deserving of a standing ovation.

the prestige - teslas's machine

A US-British co-production. Directed by Christopher Nolan. Screenplay by Christopher Nolan & Jonathon Nolan, based on the novel by Christopher Priest. Starring Hugh Jackman, Christian Bale, Michael Caine, Scarlett Johansson, Rebecca Hall and David Bowie. Year of release: 2006. Running time: 130 minutes.

Loosely drawn from the award-winning novel by Christopher Priest, The Prestige tells of the rivalry, attempted career sabotage and obsessive one-upmanship between two late nineteenth century stage magicians which escalates over many years. As the two men’s unbridled antagonism towards one another becomes increasingly more dangerous – a discovery is made which culminates in the use of real magic in a plot to end the feud once and for all.

I have to admit – I’ve never been anything of a Nolan fanboy. Although I did enjoy Insomnia very much (thanks mostly to the performances of Al Pacino and Robin Williams) – I was never a fan of his Dark Knight Trilogy (with its ineptly-staged action sequences and oppressive humorlessness) and thought Inception had some intriguing ideas – but was ultimately handicapped by its overblown length and self-importance and that never-ending finale. With The Prestige, however, (Nolan’s fifth feature from 2006) – the director has delivered a near perfect film.

Nolan and his brother, Jonathon, have fashioned a compelling screenplay with plenty of twists and turns and it’s no surprise the two had spent five years developing and finessing the script prior to production – as the end result is a solid, well-crafted     story with a lot of serious thought given to fleshing out interesting concepts in an entertaining and compelling manner. I’d even go as far to say this is absolutely one of those films which demands multiple viewings – and I for one look forward to another watch – if only to marvel at how cleverly the woven intricacies of the plot seamlessly unfold.

the prestige jackman and bale

At its core, this impressive film is a meditation on the pointless circularity of tit-for-tat vindictiveness and how this negative energy has the potential to consume individuals and blind them from what is really important in life – personal happiness, relationships (and the like). Refreshingly, there is no distinct delineation between antagonist and protagonist here – as the two leads are equally to blame for the terrible turn of events. Although initially sharing the same lower-class Victorian background, Angier (Hugh Jackman) and Borden (Bale) do appear to be (on the surface at least) polar opposites – Angier becoming an upmarket darling; wowing American auds with his flare for self-promotion and natural showmanship – while Borden (lacking the same hutzpah as Angier) struggles to find acclaim in the squalid fleapits of Old London Town. Unlike Borden, Angier is openly horrified at the thought of intentionally killing animals for     the sake of creating illusions; while Borden keeps a veritable menagerie of live birds he uses during a particular trick: where a dove is seen to be squashed in its cage – only to reappear moments later very much alive (in reality a second live dove is substituted for the dead one). It is Angier’s refusal to kill doubles for the sake of entertainment which eventually leads him to solicit the genius of famed physicist     and inventor Nikola Tesla (David Bowie). Angier conspires to incorporate one of Tesla’s secret inventions into his stage routine – for an illusion he dubs ‘The Transported Man’ (the details of which I won’t be spoiling here). Suffice it to say – things don’t end particularly well.

Performances are uniformly excellent: Hugh Jackman employs his natural flare for theatrics to good effect; Christian Bale is suitably brooding; Scarlett Johansson adopts an authentic-sounding English accent; David Bowie gives a standout performance as Nikola Tesla and Michael Caine is always a joy to watch. The film’s period settings are convincingly realized. Wally Pfister’s Oscar-nominated lensing is gorgeous as would be expected and the atmospheric score by Nolan regular David Julyan (Insomnia, Memento) does much to sustain a sense of intrigue and wonder throughout. All these elements seamlessly woven together ensure The Prestige is clever and entertaining and easily one of the best films of the last decade.

Viewed on Blu-ray.

4.5 stars out of 5

Star ratings: 1 – poor / 2 – below average / 3 – good / 4 – excellent / 5 – unmissable

Greg Moss is a film school graduate with a background in directing music videos     and is currently seeking representation as a screenwriter. He likes creative people, feeding the cat and watching genre movies. Greg can also be heard on the Blu-ray commentary track for the 1980 sci-fi thriller Saturn 3, out now from Scream Factory.


From → film reviews

  1. montagverglas permalink

    Certainly Nolan’s best. I remember being in a funk for a week after seeing it, trying my damnedest to unravel its Gordian-knotlike structure. It’s interesting that with the last two entries in his Batman trilogy, Nolan abandoned that novelistic method of storytelling for something much more linear (and boring).

    • gregory moss permalink

      Based on the trailers released thus far, I don’t hold out much hope for INTERSTELLAR …hey, perhaps it will be another case of ‘awful trailer – terrific film’ – much like EDGE OF TOMORROW … 🙂

  2. I agree this is Nolan’s best film, although it suffers a little after a few viewings (but I’ll never forget that first time with that WTF! moment). Nolan’s films are usually too cold but I really empathised with the characters in this, and it certainly holds up better than Inception.

    And yeah, Interstellar does look awful. Thought I was the only one left unconvinced by that cringe-inducing trailer. It seems to give too much away for one thing, and reminded me too much of Man of Steel’s trailer funnily enough (and look how that turned out), but who knows, it might still end up a great movie. Just…looks…awful though.

  3. Great movie, loved it, I have to agree Nolan’s best

    • gregory moss permalink

      I’m pleased this film is getting the praise it deserves. Thanks for commenting!

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