Very rarely does a film tell you exactly what’s going to happen within the first five minutes. And it’s one in a billion that the movie still keeps you on the edge of your seat right up until you say “Oh my god” at the end. Such is the new thriller “The Prestige”.
Brothers Jonathan and Christopher Nolan (writer and director, respectively) team up again for the first time since 2000’s “Memento” to adapt Christopher Priest’s novel about two magicians in the late nineteenth century, dueling for supremacy. Robert Angier (Hugh Jackman) and Alfred Borden (Christian Bale) start their careers as audience plants for an aging magician. After the untimely death of Angier’s wife, which he blames Borden for, the two separate and challenge each other for best entertainer in London. As they progress the challenge further and further, it begins to get dangerous for the two men, both sustaining sever injuries.
Angier has greater means at his disposal, enlisting the help of his manager Cutter (Michael Caine), assistant Olivia (Scarlett Johnasson) and famed physicist/engineer Nikola Tesla (David Bowie). But Borden is craftier; having the most magnificent trick that Angier just can’t figure out.
Nolan is one of the most intriguing directors of this generation. His films unfold in a way that’s conducive to the actual plot of the movie. “Memento” was told backwards, so we had the same feeling of being lost as the main character. In “The Prestige”, Caine explains the structure in the form of a magic act. First act is the pledge, the set up the exposition, as with any story. The turn is where we see that there’s something more to the story than meets the eye. And the titular prestige, that’s the payoff, the wow factor. And it’s an amazing payoff. They tell you to expect the unexpected, but you’re still fascinated and glued to your seat.
The film is presented in a very dark and sinister manner, which accentuates the escalating duel between the magic men. It’s the same tone Nolan brought to the resuscitated “Batman” franchise.
It’s a supremely talented cast that Nolan was able to put together, everyone at the top of their game. Jackman is the real stand-out, breaking away from his action persona he’s carved for himself and taking on a demanding dramatic role that showcases his true talent. Bale continues his impressive streak as one of the top actors of this generation. He has this intense screen presence that very few others have and is just mystifying. You could see it in “American Psycho” and “Batman Begins”, his performance is what really made those films, and helps propel this one. But I can’t forget the scene stealer in Bowie. He plays the role of Tesla very dark and restrained, giving him this air of creepiness.
I can’t wait to see what the sibling auteurs do with future projects (including a “Batman Begins” sequel), but if their tried and true track record holds, we’re in for a cinematic treat.