Review by Mark Walters


When I was younger I had a big fascination with magic.  I even dabbled as a magician, starting in school talent shows, and as I got older entertaining groups of church kids.  I don't think I outgrew it, but rather got preoccupied with other endeavors.  The interest in it definitely remains.  I've seen David Copperfield live three times, and whenever the opportunity presents itself I still keep tabs on the latest tricks.  Some of my childhood heroes ranged from guys like Harry Blackstone to Harry Anderson.  So needless to say when I heard director Christopher Nolan (MEMENTO and BATMAN BEGINS) was doing a movie about dueling magicians, I was pretty stoked.  I'm already a fan of Nolan's work.  He has a style that is visually exciting, and cerebrally stimulating.  I consider MEMENTO a masterpiece in low-budget storytelling, and BATMAN BEGINS to be an amazing example of comic book filmmaking.  But magic is tricky subject matter.  Some people find it to be silly, and others could simply care less.  But those who know magic and the history of the art are aware that there can easily be a dark side to it.  And that is exactly what Chris plays on with this film.

The film opens by introducing us to Robert Angier (Hugh Jackman) and Alfred Borden (Christian Bale), two young men who work as audience plants for practicing magicians.  Their teacher is a man named Cutter (Michael Caine), who insists on them learning the proper way to wow an audience.  Angier's wife Julia (Piper Perabo) hides her true identity acting as a magician's assistant.  One night when Angier and Borden are routinely assisting on stage for one of Julia's watery escape tricks, Borden gets cocky and ties the wrong knot.  The trick goes bad and Julia dies.  This results in the two friends parting ways.  After some time passes, each of them have taken the stage.  While Borden is content to struggle in bars with drunken audiences, Angier goes all out trying to become an erudite theatrical illusionist.  But the death of his wife haunts Robert, and he wants more than anything to return that hurt on Alfred.  They compete with each other, sometimes in drastic ways.  But things get really strange when Angier witnesses Borden perform an astounding trick, which just can't seem to be explained.  This starts an obsession, which leads Angier to eccentric scientist Nikola Tesla (David Bowie), in hopes of creating his own baffling routine that can trump Borden.  But his pursuit of perfection may end up being his own undoing.  How does Borden do what he does?  What is his secret?  A real magician will never tell...

Christopher Nolan returns to his MEMENTO style of filmmaking.  This is one of those films that makes you think, and then think some more.  You'll repeatedly hear the line "Are you watching closely?"  There's a reason.  This is a film that demands focused attention.  What you think is going on is not.  What you think has happened hasn't.  As each man struggles to uncover the secrets, we're doing our best to work it out as well.  I was surprised to learn that the film's trailer is rather deceiving, as the story plays out much differently than you would expect.  We see the highs of each character, and the lows, and their victories and defeats.  This is almost more of a character study than a straightforward film.  Hugh Jackman is terrific as the obsessive Angier.  His haunting past creates some incredible tension, and it's a fascinating portrayal.  Christian Bale pulls out his darkest acting abilities here, and still manages to show us some endearing qualities with his character.  Every man has a light and dark side, and both these guys are prime examples.  Scarlett Johansson portrays Angier's stage assistant Olivia, who becomes a potential romantic interest.  Sadly her character is pretty wasted and ultimately unimportant.  It could've been just about anyone in this role.  The more interesting female in played by Rebecca Hall, who portrays Borden's love interest Sarah.  These two start out with a passionate and sincere relationship, but the twisted events that play out put a serious strain on them.  Hall gets to show an amazing range of emotion in her role, and shows up all of the other women in the cast.  Michael Caine is... well.. Michael Caine.  He's the smart mentor guy that nobody listens to.  I liked the fact that he plays a guy who should have all the answers, but is often times just as confused by what's going on as everyone else.  Two supporting characters worthy of note are Nikola Tesla played by David Bowie, and his assistant Alley played by Andy Serkis.  Bowie is the perfect choice for an eccentric man like Tesla.  He embodies the genius and quirkiness that character deserves.  I also noticed he sounds and looks a lot like an older Pierce Brosnan... see if you agree.  Andy Serkis is one of my favorite actors who to date has not received the roles he really deserves.  He's got some fun moments here, and I'm glad he's finally getting some screen time in big movies.

Nolan has yet to disappoint me.  This film doesn't break that feeling either.  I enjoyed the character interaction and the mysterious storytelling techniques.  That said this film is not without its faults.  While clocking in at 98 minutes, the pacing feels a bit long and drug out.  I'm not sure how it could've been improved, but there were some tedious moments throughout.  Now maybe that's intentional, so that we can properly understand the mindset of these two men.  There's also a major turning point in the film where things take a drastic turn from reality to fantasy.  I really enjoyed the reality-based moments, because it made things so creepy to think it could really happen.  But when the turning point hits, we're reduced to an almost sci-fi type of storyline.  That's not to say it doesn't work, because it does.  But I was really hoping Nolan would focus on the truth behind magic, educating audiences in what really goes one when the curtain closes.  In the end the film teaches us two things - obsession can ruin a life or lives, and those who win competitions don't always get what they want.  It's a very entertaining movie, and I feel like it merits repeat viewings to truly appreciate it.  Is it better than MEMENTO?  No.  But it is a very interesting way to spend a few hours in the theater, whether you like magic or not. score - On a scale of 1 to 10, 10 being best, I give THE PRESTIGE an 8.

Visit the Touchstone Pictures THE PRESTIGE movie website by clicking here.

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