The Prestige - Movie Reviews - Rotten Tomatoes

The Prestige Reviews

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Super Reviewer
½ June 4, 2007
six or seven dollars worth of movie
Daniel Mumby
Super Reviewer
½ December 4, 2009
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.
Super Reviewer
½ July 18, 2007
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.
Super Reviewer
March 17, 2007
Christian Bale and Michael Caine are re-united with director Christopher Nolan in this beautifully crafted period mystery which sees two magicians locked into an escalating vendetta after a trick goes wrong resulting in the death of Hugh Jackman's wife. Nolan proves himself once more to be as masterful at misdirection as the illusionists themselves, producing a wonderful looking and cleverly scripted tale of revenge that's full of twists and turns. His favoured method of disjointed timelines works very well, feeding the audience important plot elements at strategic intervals, keeping you guessing until, well NEARLY the end...when the final twist reveals itself, it does take a certain amount of suspension of disbelief, but hey, this isn't a documentary. The performances are all fine, although Scarlett Johansson doesn't really have too much to do except look pretty, but she manages to muddle through. Another cracker from one of the most consistently good directors working today.
Samuel Riley
Super Reviewer
August 26, 2013
A truly sophisticated and wondrous film that never loses its sparkle. With its multiple and mind challenging twists that are continuously debated over, a film that's talked about like this is one that won't be forgotten anytime soon. Aside from its superb story, The Prestige is packed with powerful performances; from the rising tension and competition between Christian Bale and Hugh Jackman, to Scarlett Johansson being caught between the rivalry of the magicians, to the words of wisdom from Michael Caine and David Bowie as the infamous Nikola Tesla. This is one of Christopher Nolan's better yet less recognized works that will never cease to grip its audience and continues to deliver one powerful show of revenge, mystery and the shocking choices that our rival leads are willing to make.
Super Reviewer
December 30, 2012
A dazzling piece from the minds of Christopher and Jonathan Nolan. The Prestige is a mysterious piece that really depicts the centralized themes of obsession, secrecy and sacrifice; all in part to a brilliant presentation from its writers and sensational duo of Jackman & Bale. 4/5
Super Reviewer
½ October 27, 2012
Enjoyable -- with a twist!
Jack Hawkins
Super Reviewer
½ August 5, 2012
Ultimately, like so many of Christopher Nolan's films, 'The Prestige' is ridiculous, far-fetched. The story twists in a way that beggars belief, in a way that's so desperately lacking in plausibility that one asks themselves 'Did I hear that correctly? Has it really just gone in that direction?' Thankfully, this occurs at the end of the film, the preceding two hours produce, generally speaking, a delightfully realistic, taut and human period drama that engrosses far more than I expected. Indeed, the twist is a vital device that makes the film, in the writers' minds at least, 'work', which means the film rather flawed. The climax undermines everything that made the film good, but those two hours soften the blow considerably. All performances are solid, particularly Rebecca Hall's, who has a real, sweet naturalness about her that struck me as soon as she graced the screen. Christian Bale's accent takes at least 40 minutes to get accustomed to, it has an odd, contrived strain to it that normally only appears in interviews. As everyone knows, he's British, but I think his true accent was lost in Hollywood a long time ago, I'm no longer sure what his real accent is, and I don't think he does either. The film becomes increasingly overwrought as it approaches its quite frankly stupid climax, however I think the film's merits overpower this, making it an enjoyable but not great film.
Super Reviewer
½ May 28, 2007
Christopher Nolan scores once again with this fascinating, engaging, tense, and mystifying thriller about a rivalry between two magicians that turns deadly. It's basically just a twisted and dark tale about obsession, rivalry, and revenge set in the world of Houdini era stage magicians, and that's cool.

Given that it's a Nolan film though, and that the subject matter is magic, illusion, and trickery, you can expect this film to not be straight forward or clear cut. I absolutely loved this when I first saw it, giving it 4 1/2 stars. Like Inception, I'm revisiting it, and I'm docking it, since it has lost some of its inital impact and wow factor, but I'm far less impressed with this one compared to the other. In fact, this might actually be one of his weaker films, at least in my opinion. Yeah, most people give that distinction to Insomnia, but that one doesn't really infuriate me like this does, mostly because I had ambiguity and trickery, and twist upon twist for the sake of it. I say that, and I love Inception, but that sort of thing didn't feel focred. Yeah, it was convoluted, but this is more so, and it sticks out here as really being forced due to the magic angle. I really should have expected this, but my original viewing was at a time before I'd really gone through all sorts of changes, and my tastes and views weren't as they are now.

I do dig this film, but the endings are an issue, well, one of them (the Jackman one). Didn't really accept that one so much this time. The other is fine, and I dig it, but it really felt like Nolan was being twisty and screwing around for the sake of it here, and it fell flat. I still like this movie though, as it is pretty well crafted, but it just overdoes things...too much, too often.
Super Reviewer
June 25, 2007
A dark, moody mystery thriller from the clever mind of Christopher Nolan dealing with two rival magicians (Christian Bale and Hugh Jackman) at the turn of the 20th century, and how each turns their life upside down to see the other one fail at his act. In addition to being wonderfully photographed and exceptionally well-written, Nolan has taken a light subject and given it layers of darkness and dread that are both original and a welcome surprise to the subject. Nolan has proven himself to be one of the best auteurs of his time again and again, and while this is not his crowning achievement ("The Dark Knight" and "Memento" get bragging rights there), it is certainly an uneasy, haunting entry into his filmography of cold, bleak films drenched in despair and sadness. It could have used a little more of a sense of humor, and the ending is one the audience could see coming if they pay attention carefully, but one thing is for certain - it keeps you guessing with its twists and turns, making it consistently enjoyable and entertaining throughout.
Super Reviewer
September 17, 2010
This revenge thriller twists and turns through different points-of-views, time, and setting and manages to keep the audience engaged and shocked throughout. Great performances by both Hugh Jackman and Christian Bale. "The Prestige"'ll surprise you, entertain you, and shock you. A great time.
Super Reviewer
February 23, 2012
Super Reviewer
½ November 6, 2011
A dazzling piece of work that literally stuns you with magic. Its plot keeps you hanging on until the very end where it goes for the kill in your head. Weirdly enough, this proves that there are in fact forgotten cliches, but it cleverly contributes to the impact of the film. Also, this movie is magnificently acted by both Christian Bale and Hugh Jackman. Nolan truly stayed up with his standards and continued to make quality films in all of its aspect.
Super Reviewer
½ September 30, 2011
This is my type of film, full of mystery & twists. With one of the best twist endings i've ever seen, The Prestige adds onto Christopher Nolan's genius and great filmmaking. I haven't read the book, but this film has to be a really great adaptation for it. I don't think i've been as shocked towards an ending since I saw Se7en, i'm surprised this film didn't get more acclaim.
Jason Lalljee
Super Reviewer
½ October 28, 2011
It's 1860. 19th century London and the rest of developing societies have convinced themselves that they are at the height of civil progression and have delved into gratifying forms of entertainment. One of the less attractive forms are magic, magicians forming illusions and mind-benders to test the intellect of theater goers. This is the backdrop to Christopher Nolan's 2006 adaption of Christopher Priest's celebrated novel. The film revolves around two rival magicians, Rupert Angier (Hugh Jackman) and Alfred Borden (Christian Bale). The two once worked together, finding bigger and more elaborate ways to bend the minds of their theater goers. Angier's wife was there assistant. One performance is the popular escape the locked water chamber- the start the pocket watch and the woman is behind the curtain. The minute's up, they pull the curtain, and the woman is dead. Angier blames Alfred, who later marries and starts a family. He envies his partner's life. He quickly returns to magic acts, and utilizes a simple transport sequence. Everyone, including Angier's new assistant, Olivia, (Scarlett Johannsen) and his manager, Cutter (Michael Caine) say it's an illusion, using a behind the scenes duplicate. But Angier reads between the lines. He knows that Alfred is doing something different-is it true magic? An optical illusion, or the obvious answer, science? Angier spends years searching for the answer, growing corrupt and insane. Alfred isn't faring well, all the while leading his ex-partner on a false trail and dealing with his wife (Rebecca Hall) who is tired of secrets. Angier seeks science and researches the possibility of cloning, which Alfred only tricked him into doing, but finds out it really is real. He suspects, however, that what Alfred may be performing the greatest illusion of all time-or perhaps true magic.

It's made clear from the beginning that this movie isn't about magic tricks. The screenwriter doesn't toy with the supernatural elements but cleverly invests most of the plot in character development. Director Christopher Nolan helmed this film after Batman Begins but right before The Dark Knight, so he had already set a tone for himself as a film maker by the tone at this time. This, to me, feels a lot like a 19th century Inception. What makes this film engaging to watch is seeing the rival magicians trying to outsmart each other. Christopher Nolan brilliantly balances his multiple time periods in this (much like Inception) so that a wary viewer won't get confused but is still in for a surprise in the end when the final card is laid on the table. He manages to juggle multiple subplots as well as mold the character psychology into the execution of the story, which in another's hands would become disjointed. The camerawork is purposefully shaky and the cinematography purposefully dark as to illuminate the story's tone and conflict.

The film is bolstered by powerful performances from its leading cast, who carry a lot of the weight here. It's Jackman in particular who holds the viewers' attention, managing to inject just the right amount of borderline psychosis that his character needs. The little exposition that there is in the story is mostly left up to him, as Bale's perspective is purposefully kept in the dark due to plot demands. He's not only easy to watch but riveting in his role as a man driven to madness by obsession, idiosyncratic in his performance and chilling as an afterthought. This is possibly the most psychologically dark performance he's given, which according to Hollywood is puberty for actors.

Gripping, disturbing, and with just the right amount of narrative complexity, The Prestige proves to be a thrilling and unique period piece that racks up another cinematic success for Christopher Nolan.
Joel K.
Super Reviewer
October 27, 2011
A film about jealousy, deceit, and bitter rivalry, The Prestige is an excellent film. A dark and complex story which is put forward brilliantly to the watcher through the diary within a diary style, a unique and genius way of executing the narrative. Each diary acts almost like its own story, and as each gets resovled you see the connections between each one, until the past is completely resolved and in the final act the story focuses on the present. The sets, and costumes are all briantly designed, creating the illusion that this realy is late 19th century london. The acting is at a high standard, and i thought it was a shame that Micheal Caines character didn't have the amount of screen time as everyone else, but Bale pretty much fills the acting gap. Despite being baised before the twentieth century, The Prestige has the same cutting edge and modern and dark atmosphere of other Nolan films. The ending comes with at leat 3 genuine suprises, and despite the darkness, the ending is a happy one. This shuold require repeat viewing to be fully apreciated.
Super Reviewer
September 26, 2011
Very good movie. There is no doubt in my mind who is the best director of post 2000 time. A very interesting story (I'm a fan of magic...) And very good acting performances. I say...keep up the good work
Super Reviewer
September 9, 2011
The Prestige is a nonlinear mystery thriller from Christopher Nolan with "the pledge," "the turn," and "the prestige" in story, style, and form. The Prestige is a dark and sadistic illusion, a brilliant deception to the unsuspecting audiences. Look closer. It is magic.
Super Reviewer
January 3, 2009
I'm guessing that 5 or 10 years from now people are going to revisit this film and wonder what all the fuss was about.
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