When The Illusionist ended, it felt like there just wasn’t enough of the theme. Just how perfect was this movie? Period piece, great cinematography, great editing, colors, contrasts, actors, script, plot, revelation and it was all about a turn of the century magician. Here’s an era that hasn’t been explored much in Cinema. It got a 5 outta 5 from this reviewer.
Thanks to Mr. Nolan we now have another magical masterpiece to add to the roster. Now a quick a dirty background check on Christopher Nolan reveals his credits; director and writer of the brilliant dissection of an amnesic man’s search for his wife’s killer, in Memento. If you haven’t seen Memento, go rent the DVD right now – the movie’s story rolls backward but the DVD has an option to watch the movie from the beginning of the story to its end. Nolan also wrote and directed what this reviewer qualified as the greatest super-hero movie of all time, Batman Begins.
The Prestige gathers Batman Begins’ two stars, Christian Bale and Michael Caine and thankfully forgot to include the dreadful Katie Holmes. So with the perfect trifecta of players known to work well together, Nolan adds another player, Hugh Jackman, aka The Wolverine. But the superb actor roster does not end here. Andy Serkis of Gollum fame plays the eccentric assistant to the even more eccentric real-world historical figure, Tesla, played by the best actor to play such freaks, and a true Rock God, David Bowie, who is barely recognizable in the his first scenes. And of course the feminine presence is filled by current Thinking Man’s Goddess, Scarlett Johansson as the lovely assistant to our dueling magicians. You see the story isn’t plain, it’s quite complicated.
Two aspiring magicians, are hired as crowd plants for the star magician’s tricks that involve the use of spectators. Here’s the setup. We have an aging magician touring around Europe and his trustee engineer Cutter, or ingénieur, as he tells the court, played by Michael Caine, brilliantly of course. There’s of course the lovely assistant who happens to be the wife of crowd plant, Robert Angier (Jackman). During the preparation for the water tank escape, it is Angier’s job to tie her legs and Alfred Borden’s (Bale) responsibility to tie her hands. On one fateful evening, even after being told not to use certain not, Borden does so. The assistant unable to escape drowns in the tank. This drives a rift between Angier and Borden and in sue turns them into rivals; a vindictive rivalry that goes beyond the ends of science, physics and ethics.
At first we see the sides of both magicians trying to pick up the remains after the tragedy. But always watchful of each other they will endlessly pursue the crippling of the other’s life and career as magicians. Whether it’s ruining the act or even using real ammunition during a bullet catching trick. There’s nothing one won’t do to one-up his adversary. When Borden comes up with The Transported Man, a trick where he seemingly enters a placard and comes out another one on the stage, within the time it takes for a ball to bounce; Angier is haunted with this astonishing trick which he can’t seem to reproduce without using an actor as a double. This very trick begins the downward spiral into madness both men will experience. Angier’s interpretation of the act is exposed by a disguised Borden. The event leaves a humiliated Angier with a very broken leg and with an empty theater.
This leads him to sequester Borden’s assistant for ransom. The demanded ransom is the key word to decrypt Borden’s stolen magic trick book. This key, which is of course trickery, leads Angier to Colorado Springs to meet the eccentric Tesla facing hostilities from his own personal rival, Thomas Edison. This is where we learn about obsession and how it drives men like Tesla and Angier. Tesla believes he has created a teleportation device. But it has a few bugs that need working out. But Angier’ is too eager to spend his fortune acquiring this device to bring his career back to greatness and finally defeat his nemesis, Borden.
For those who don’t know about Tesla, he is considered to have invented the 20th century. He created wireless communication in 1893 and Alternative Current (AC) and was the object of utmost frustration and competition to the better known Edison. Tesla was considered mad by some for theories about science-fiction worthy concepts, like a global wireless telecommunications network. Yeah he sure was wacky huh?
Now I won’t say much more about The Prestige’s story line simply because it would ruin the fun. But be assured that this movie is great and parallels the brilliance that was The Illusionist but with the slight difference, that The Transported Man isn’t a trick. And there are many, many twists in the storyline that may or may not be expected but only add to the complexity and richness of the story.
Though the cinematography isn’t art-house perfect, like The Illusionist was, it is perfect in its own style. Nolan once again doesn’t cut corners nor does he ever cheat us. Every little detail in the environment is taken care of as much as possible to transport the viewer into this magical world. Nothing is spared to make the storytelling as real and believable as possible, even in its most fantastical moments. Every major actor in this movie gives Oscar worthy performances. Not just one of them, but all of them. Nolan cannot go unnoticed this year for the best movie statuette, best writing, and best direction.
When that PVC cowboy hat wearing joker Robert Rodriguez claims that Cinema is dead and needs to be resurrected; he’s right. But contrary to his beliefs, he’s not the chosen one. If someone can reinvent intelligent cinema, it’s a man like Nolan. He’s proven it time after time. Memento, Batman Begins and now The Prestige.
I will end this review here, for fear of revealing too much of its secrets. It would be like taking off the icing and leaving you with the cake. This movie must be seen by anyone who loves cinema that isn’t packed with Hollywoodisms, clichés, gratuitous fireballs and puerile sexiness. If you haven’t figured it out yet, The Prestige gets 5 abracadabras outta 5.