The Prestige
R E V I E W   B Y   R I C H   C L I N E dir Christopher Nolan
scr Christopher Nolan, Jonathan Nolan
with Hugh Jackman, Christian Bale, Michael Caine, Scarlett Johansson, David Bowie, Rebecca Hall, Andy Serkis, Piper Perabo, Roger Rees, Ricky Jay, Edward Hibbert, Jamie Harris
release US 20.Oct.06,
UK 10.Nov.06
06/UK Warner 2h08

Try to understand. Bale and Jackman

jackman bale johansson

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The Prestige Twisty and engagingly complicated, Nolan's latest is one big magic trick that tries to misdirect us as the story of obsession and revenge continually reinvents itself. It may be dry and sullen, but it's also smart and classy.

Are you watching closely? Robert Angier (Jackman) and Alfred Borden (Bale) are rival magicians in Victorian London, with an obsessive competitiveness that will eventually take several lives and a few limbs as well. They'll stop at nothing to steal ideas and secrets, and there's a lot more going on behind the scenes. Especially since they once were apprentices together under a magical master (Caine). They both fall for an assistant (Johansson). And they both have a connection with a shady Colorado scientist (Bowie).

The title refers to the final payoff of a magic trick. Nolan gives the story to us in bits and pieces, out of order, like his first movie Following. We have no trouble knowing where in the narrative we are, but there are gaping holes right to the very end--surprises up the filmmaker's sleeve that he reveals at just the right moment. It's a complicated plot, but alert viewers will follow it easily, and even figure out its secrets. And the guessing is half the fun.

Despite the lack of humour, the performances are strong. Jackman beautifully brings out Angier's intense curiosity, fuelled by personal loss that he blames on Borden. He's so charming that we root for him to overcome his obsession. But that'd hardly be the point, would it? Bale is more gruff and earthy, but has his shining moments, as well as stronger scenes with costars Hall and Johansson. Of the supporting cast, Bowie is the standout with an eloquently bizarre character we can't take our eyes off.

Basically, we don't dare take our eyes off the screen for a second. Miss a clue and we're doomed to wait for a (fairly) clear explanation. Nolan seems almost effortless in his tricky structure and subtle period setting. And the script is a marvel of hints, allusions and illusions. As a magical thriller, it's terrifically entertaining. And as a story of extreme obsession, it really gets under the skin.

cert 12 themes, violence 23.Oct.06

R E A D E R   R E V I E W S
send your review to Shadows... The Prestige Nick, Kidderminster: 5/5 "An excellent film that kept me engaged throughout. The twists and turns leading to the climax were well thought out and believable. Left me wanting to watch it again right away!" (16.Nov.06)
2006 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall