The Prestige (12A)



Thriller (2006)
130mins US

Starring: Hugh Jackman, Christian Bale, Michael Caine, Scarlett Johansson
Director: Christopher Nolan
Writer(s): Jonathan Nolan, Christopher Nolan
Listings: London | Rest of UK and Ireland

In turn-of-the-century London, aspiring magicians Robert Angier and Alfred Borden learn their craft under the renowned illusionist Milton. The two men are plants in the audience at every show, who aid Milton in the spectacular final illusion by binding the hands and feet of pretty assistant Julia - who is also Angier's sweetheart - before she is dropped into a tank of water, apparently to drown. When the trick goes tragically wrong, supposedly the result of Borden tying the wrong knot, Angier and Borden become sworn enemies, determined to out-do one another by performing increasingly dangerous tricks.

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LondonNet Film Review

The Prestige
Are you watching closely?" The greatest illusion in Christopher Nolan's labyrinthine thriller, about feuding magicians in late 19th century London, is the film itself...

David Bowie (Nikola Tesla) and Hugh Jackman (Robert Angier) in The Prestige, directed by Christopher Nolan. Copyright:  Warner Bros. Pictures 2006.The Prestige pretends to be an intricately constructed web of intrigues; a chronologically fractured narrative concealing sleights of hand designed to keep us guessing until the closing frame. Alas, once you look past the impeccable production design and strong ensemble cast, not to mention Nolan's coolly assured direction, his film is nothing but a cheap parlour trick, and an obvious one at that.

Nolan and his brother Jonathan, who co-wrote the screenplay based on the novel by Christopher Priest, flaunt their ingenuity so brazenly, they unintentionally reveal nearly all of their secrets before the first 30 minutes are up.

Consequently, when the film finally deals the numerous aces from up its sleeve, our response is a non-plussed, "Is that it?" Aspiring magicians Robert Angier (Hugh Jackman) and Alfred Borden (Christian Bale) learn their craft under the renowned illusionist Milton (Ricky Jay). The two men are plants in the audience, who aid Milton in the spectacular finale by binding the hands and feet of pretty assistant Julia (Piper Perabo) - who is also Angier's wife - before she is dropped into a tank of water, apparently to drown. When the trick goes tragically wrong, supposedly the result of Borden tying the wrong knot, Angier and Borden become sworn enemies, determined to out-do one another by performing increasingly spectacular tricks.

The men's approach to their art is completely different. Borden lacks charm or flashy presentation, and is devoted to magic in its purest form: "A real magician tries to invent something new, something that other magicians will scratch their heads over," he opines. Angier - re-christened The Great Danton - has panache and flair in abundance, but is tormented by his rival's superior technical ability. Caught in the middle is engineer and illusionist mentor Cutter (Michael Caine), who pledges his allegiance to Angier, until his protege's thirst for revenge becomes all-consuming.

As the men's fierce rivalry wrecks the lives of everyone around them, including Borden's wife (Rebecca Hall) and Angier's new assistant (Scarlett Johansson), the magicians prepare for the ultimate illusion: making the opposition disappear forever. The Prestige is a triumph of showmanship over substance.

Bale and Jackman are both solid but the screenplay doesn't develop either of their characters in sufficient depth; the emotional wounds which drive the performers barely scratch the surface let alone cut to the bone. Supporting players, especially the women, are slaves to the plot mechanics and exist solely to facilitate the various "twists and turns" that Cutter mentions in his introduction.

Director of photography Wally Pfister shoots the beautiful squalor of the 19th century capital in glorious widescreen, plus a brief sojourn to Colorado Springs where Angier meets reclusive inventor Nikola Tesla (David Bowie), and the film loses the majority of its momentum.

- Heather Von Bourne


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