Christopher Nolan is known for his unique take on his movies, with films ranging from indie-turned cult classics such as Memento to blockbusters such as Batman Begins. In The Prestige, Nolan teams up again with Batman costars Christian Bale and Michael Caine, along with Hugh Jackman, an actor who must have trouble saying no to scripts as he appears to have a movie coming out every few months. (I am certainly not complaining, however, as Jackman is terrific to look at, as are Bale and Johansson).
Bale plays Alfred Borden while Jackman plays Robert Angier, two twentieth-century magicians who start out as partners but end up as bitter rivals willing to beat each other no matter what it takes, even if it involves their own lives. Michael Caine plays a sort of advisor and trainer to both magicians, Scarlett Johansson plays an attractive assistant, and David Bowie (Yes, I said David Bowie, a true innovator and act of his own) as Nikola Tesla, an electrical innovator based on the real man who was fierce rivals with Thomas Edison at the turn of the 20th century.
The rivalry between Angier and Borden starts after Angier suspects Borden of initiating his wife’s death with a magic trick gone horribly wrong. Over time, Angier becomes incredibly jealous of Borden’s famed signature act The Transporter Man and will stop at nothing until he figures out how Borden gets it done.
Bale and Jackman are not the only ones playing tricks on their viewers. Nolan plays with the audience’s mind, as the movie starts out at the end and then begins to explain itself in scenes that aren’t even in chronological order. Although this may sound confusing, Nolan moves everything along at such a rapid and interesting pace that you never notice these devices until you suddenly realize that you’ve already seen the explanation for a particular scene or realize that you need to refer back to another scene in order to understand the current one. Although this sounds a lot like Memento, be reassured that it is nowhere near as confusing. Such a technique keeps you on your toes and actually thinking throughout the entire film, something you won’t mind, given how entertaining, compelling, and ultimately sad is the film, surprisingly.
The movie is stunning to look at, all of the actors were excellently cast and play key roles in the film, and the script is filled with different twists and turn, which Nolan shot and edited well onto the film. Jackman plays the more stately, grand and obsessive magician who knows inherently that Bale’s Borden is the better one of the two, but who nevertheless understands that as long as he can appear to be better, he’ll be more revered. Bale plays the confident, cocky (but rightfully so) Borden, a man intent on doing real magic (or as real as it can get) rather than relying on illusions like an amateur. This film is definitely one that requires additional viewings in order to catch certain elements that were missed initially to be fully appreciated.
One complaint I do have about the film, however, was the way it was marketed. I’m not so sure that opening so soon after Neil Burger’s The Illusionist was such a good idea, even though both films are excellent and different enough in their own right. The trailer and US poster are also rather misleading as the former seems to suggest to the audience that Bale’s character made some sort of deal with the devil to do his tricks, and the latter features Johansson prominently even though she wasn’t even that integral to the film. (Nolan probably just liked the way she looked and thought, “To hell with it.”) Lastly, even though the film does have a great story, the ending is confusing. I guarantee you that every three out of four people will be flummoxed by the conclusion and what the whole purpose was. This was perhaps done on purpose by Nolan, however — the last trick up his sleeve — to generate discussion long after the film is over.