The Prestige is movie magic. This is one of the reasons that people go to the movies. Christopher Nolan has crafted an intricate mystery that has a story that is involving, a cast that is highly talented, and an ending that is satisfying, yet leaves you thinking about what you just saw.
The film opens with the voice of Christian Bale's Alfred Burden urging us to "watch closely." They are not just idle words. The Prestige requires active participation from the audience. In order to get the full experience, you need to pay close attention to what unfolds before you, and even then you may not quite get it. When I left the theater, I knew I had seen something special but I was still putting the pieces together in my head. Plus, while I feel like I understand what happened, I am still not positive that I can trust my memory. I have the distinct feeling that this film will have something new to offer through a number of successive viewings.
Christopher Nolan masterfully plays with the timeline, mixing things up in a way that heightens the suspense and mystery. The saga starts with the arrest of Alfred Burden (Bale) for the murder of Rupert Angier (Hugh Jackman). From here we flash back to a better time, when Alfred and Rupert were friends, and up and coming magicians, who were assisting a more accomplished performer.
Alfred was a man of deadly seriousness when it came to the craft, always searching for that one big trick that would cement his name in history. Rupert, on the other hand was much more of a showman, always seeking the approval of the crowds for which he performs. Tragedy strikes the friends when a trick they were assisting with goes tragically wrong, resulting in the death of Rupert's wife.
The loss of Rupert's wife sets off a lifelong rivalry that crosses all personal and professional barriers. It starts with Rupert's desire to gain some sort of revenge on Alfred for his part in the death of his wife. But, when Alfred debuts that elusive trick, the one thing that will give him a place in history, Rupert sets out to discover how he does it. Rupert and Alfred's intimate rivalry is intercut with scenes a little further in the future, with Rupert searching for the mechanism behind Alfred's trick.
As I write this, I have found that no plot description that I write will do the film any justice. This film is more than a mystery, more than the who and the why, it is about the people involved and their emotional investment. Watching the lengths that these two men go to is amazing. Seeing the end result is even more amazing.
The film presents a tale that goes beyond mere drama and incorporates elements of fantasy, but does so in such a way that is completely believable. The climax of the film brings all sorts of other ideas into the mix: the morality of what they are doing, how far is too far, the strength of love, and how deep the desire for revenge can run.
Christopher Nolan continues to impress, from his debut on the big stage with Memento, a masterful mystery in reverse, to his remake of Insomnia, to his reinvigorating of the iconic hero Batman in Batman Begins. With The Prestige, he continues to deliver films that stimulate the mind and are eminently entertaining. The movie will keep you guessing until the end, and even then you will be scratching your head trying to figure out what happened, but you will have a pretty good idea of why it happened.
The performances from Christian Bale and Hugh Jackman are fantastic. Each of them sink their teeth into their roles and completely sell the drama. I was completely invested in their story, their escalating rivalry, and how they came to be so bitter towards each other. The cast also includes great turns from Michael Caine, as a maker of magical machines, and Scarlet Johansson, as an assistant who becomes involved with both sides of the equation. And let us not forget the vital role played by David Bowie as Nikola Tesla.
Bottomline. This is one of the best films I have seen this year. This is one of those times when the stars have aligned and the end result is one of those things that burrows itself into your brain and takes up residence in the happy zone. There is a lot that is going on, more than a mere description could say. See the movie, witness the magic.