The Prestige (2006)
Critic Consensus: Full of twists and turns, The Prestige is a dazzling period piece that never stops challenging the audience.
In 1878, two young stage magicians clash in a darkened salon during the course of a fraudulent seance. From this moment on, their lives become webs of deceit and exposure, secrets and revelations, as they feud to outwit and destroy one another. Their rivalry takes them both to the peak of their careers, but with terrible consequences.
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as Robert Angier
as Alfred Borden
as Julia Angier
as Sarah Borden
as Olivia Wenscombe
as Jess Borden
as Nikola Tesla
as Sullen Warder
as Stagecoach Driver
as Hotel Manager
as Chung Ling Soo
as Elegant Lady
as Ticket Hawker
as Jess Borden - Toddle...
as Jess Borden - Toddle...
as Man in Hotel No. 1
as Man in Hotel No. 2
as Burly Stagehand
as Blind Stagehand No. ...
as Blind Stagehand No. ...
as Blind Stagehand No. ...
as Carriage Driver
as Glamorous Assistant
as Workman No. 1
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Critic Reviews for The Prestige
The film is never less than engaging, though considering that the title The Prestige refers to the moment in a magic act that gives it its "wow" factor, it's kind of a shame that the ultimate "reveal" in the movie is a little too tricky for its own good.
The who's-bilking-whom mind games make for compelling fun, but once the presto moment of The Prestige is revealed, you're left with nothing but shattered illusions.
Until an inexplicably awful revelation at the end, The Prestige is a taut, exciting portrait of obsession and the dark competitive spirit of professional magicians.
Audience Reviews for The Prestige
six or seven dollars worth of movie
It's become lazily popular to dismiss Christopher Nolan as a cold, clinical director. Critics of his work frequently attack his approach to characters and dialogue, claiming that they are little more than vessels for ideas, and that by extension his ideas are not complex enough in the first place. Whether you attribute such attitudes to snooty critics or disgruntled fanboys, it's an attitude which seems unlikely to go away any time soon.
Viewed from this perspective, The Prestige presents itself as an excellent counter-argument. Coming between the film which made him a big name in Hollywood and the film which immortalised him for a generation, this is a demonstration that Nolan can do small, intricate, character-driven pieces every bit as well as blowing up buildings. More than that, it's a reminder of how effective his approach to character construction can be - a reminder which is still scintillating after nine long years.
First and foremost, The Prestige looks fantastic. Wally Pfister's directorial ambitions to date may have come to little, but as a cinematographer he remains arguably the best in the business. Where so many period dramas have a cookie cutter feel, borrowing all too readily from either Pride and Prejudice or Barry Lyndon, Pfister and Nolan's vision of Victorian London is completely bespoke, at once modern and historic. Pfister achieves an excellent balance between the glaring bright light of the stage lights and Nikola Tesla's lightning with more velvety, textured tones and an effective use of shadows even in the darker scenes.
Rather than simply looking pretty, however, Nolan's version of Victoriana is steeped in what could poetically be called the mystery of modernity. Many period dramas seek to emphasise the antiquated, pastoral or reactionary tendencies of their time period, contrasting our busy, technology-driven lives with simpler, possibly more elegant moments in our history. The Prestige, by contrast, emphasises the modern, innovative nature of this world, focussing on the confluence between science and imagination. It puts the audience on the cusp of the greatest and most dangerous development of the age, leaving us in a permanent state of both unease and curiosity.
The Prestige is primarily a film about obsession, a trait which is reflected in multiple ways in the main characters. Like Guy Pearce's character in Memento, both Robert Angier and Howard Borden are romantically obsessive, the former for his dead wife, the latter for his estanged love and by extension his daughter. These obsessions merge with their natural competitive desire to outdo each other, which expresses itself in their showmanship to their audiencez and their increasingly ruthless desire to outdo one another.
Nolan is making a very clear point about class in this character dynamic, contrasting Borden's earthy yet often uninspired approach to tricks with Angier's aristocratic love of flair and panache. The death of Angier from this perspective is a nod to the declining social position of his ilk, and in the long-term the death of a particular style of theatrical performance. From this angle, one could liken it in a strange way to The Entertainer, with Angier filling the shoes of Laurence Olivier's Archie Rice.
But the final defeat of Angier also makes a point about the fruitlessness of obsession and competition. While Borden is able to confront his obsession, finally putting the needs of his family first and giving up his art, Angier remains a prisoner to the end; his constant desire to beat Borden, whether out of vengeance or spite, has left him a hollow shell. His trick wins over the crowd, but without the deeper love of his peers, his victory is meaningless and he dies a broken man.
It would have been very easy for Nolan to make a film in which two characters simply talk about how obsessed they are, intercutting this with glitzy set-pieces involving the tricks. But Nolan instead conveys the struggle through the characters, setting up the initial conflict and allowing the actors to deepen the characters as their obsessions intensify. The characters are defined by the ideas and themes that surround them, but their personalities are not restricted by either. And while the women in the film are dealt a slightly weaker hand in this respect, Scarlett Johansson and particularly Rebecca Hall are more than capable of holding their own in their given scenes.
The Prestige is also very much about perception, particularly about how magic and science can both challenge our accepted versions of reality. The magical aspect of this is pretty clear: most films about stage magic have long sequences about misdirection and sleight of hand. But The Prestige goes further than, say, The Illusionist from the same year, talking about the purpose of misdirection rather than just the mechanics of it. There are long discussions about the need to challenge the expectations of the audience, and the power that comes from causing people to believe the impossible.
Borden and Angier's search for this ecstatic moment in magic is mirrored by Nikola Tesla's experiments in the middle section of the film. The first glimpses of Tesla's arching electricity fells us with terror and dread - a feeling which turns to eerie wonderment during the light bulb scene and then Tesla's immensely cool entrance. From there we are taken on a journey through the frustration that comes with experimenting, and then the surprise and (albeit considered) elation of success.
The central lines of The Prestige are spoken by Tesla when Angier attempts to commission him to build the machine. When Angier claims that it is impossible, Tesla responds: "Nothing is impossible, Mr. Angier, what you want is merely expensive". The words are both extremely confident and immensely cautionary, with Tesla's reluctance coming from the knowledge of where his innovation will lead. David Bowie plays him as the Cassandra of the piece, whose sad warnings fall on deaf ears; Bowie is perfectly cast and gives what may be his best all-round performance since The Man Who Fell to Earth.
Having given us memorable characters and a whole lot of substance on which to chew, Nolan completes his brilliant misdirection through twisty, non-linear storytelling. While the narrative structure is not as radical as Memento's, it does justice to the epistolary nature of Christopher Priest's source material, and by jumping around in time the audience is kept constantly guessing. Non-linear storytelling should never be viewed in gimmicky terms, with a film automatically becoming stronger if it uses it. It's a question of finding the right way to tell a given story, and this is the right way for this particular tale.
The Prestige is an excellent mystery thriller which combines strong characters with memorable storytelling and a series of fascinating, complex ideas. While it is perhaps slightly too long and a little too twisty for its own good in the last act, these are small, easily forgivable flaws in the context of a damn fine piece of cinematic craftsmanship. Inception may have since surpassed it as Nolan's best film, but it's still a fitting reminder of his skill with characters and the benefits of his storytelling methods.
London, it turns out, is not quite big enough for two turn-of-the-century magicians whose friendship becomes rivalry that only seems to grow worst every year, finally consuming them. While heavy hitters Jackman and Bale are the centers of attention here its quite remarkable how many scenes Michael Caine manages to steal from them both with hardly a ruckus. David Bowie takes his part seriously as well. Not a bore by any stretch of the imagination. The twist, the reveal, is kinda cheap though, weak.
The Prestige Quotes
|Robert Angier:||Man's reach exceeds his imagination!|
|Olivia Wenscombe:||It's inhuman to be so cold.|
|Robert Angier:||He's out of his mind!|
|Olivia Wenscombe:||He's an out-of-work actor, of course he's out of his mind.|
|Olivia Wenscombe:||You're going to need a better disguise.|
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