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The Prestige (2006)

The Prestige (2006)  Directed by: Christopher Nolan  Rated: PG-13  

Runtime: 2hr 10min    Based on: Novel by Christopher Priest

Studio: Warner Bros.  Screenwriter: Jonathan Nolan, Christopher Nolan

Cast: Christian Bale, Hugh Jackman, Michael Caine, Scarlett Johansson, David Bowie, Andy Serkis

At one point in human history, societies believed in magic. The supernatural. To be wooed and wondered by those who would dare wield it in a wide variety of ways over time. As mankind grew more intelligent or less gullible, depending on the century, the notion of the mystic arts or magic tricks became a tradecraft of sorts—the art of illusions.

In Christopher Nolan’s Prestige, the art of illusion is on full display in London during the late 1890s. A pair of competing magicians professionally try to one-up each other to be the best. This civil rivalry turns sour after a performance goes sideways, locking them in a dangerous loop of who is truly the best, no matter the costs or consequences. 

The Prestige is a detailed, dark drama ruled by magic, science, and obsession. It keeps you reeled in as you watch it. As you watch, you’re trying to figure out if you can see what’s coming, which is fair; this is a Christopher Nolan film. His films make you think, make you try and pay attention without missing that ‘it’ factor. That’s fitting considering the narrative that’s unfolding on screen.

Christian Bale & Hugh Jackman in ‘The Prestige.’ Image: Warner Bros.

Robert Angier (Jackman) is a magician with stage presence and lacks imagination. Alfred Borden (Bale) has nothing but imagination but can’t package it so that an audience will care. Their rivalry transcends professionalism; it’s a vendetta. Deserved or not-you understand why they act the way they do. Bale and Jackman’s energy into their respective characters is lovely; they play off one another so well. These performances are grounded by John Cutter (Caine) and Olivia’s (Johansson) additions. 

Cutter is Angier’s manager, and Olivia is his assistant until she’s not. Michael Caine, as always, is a phenomenal addition to any cast. Johansson does a good job with her character despite the century where a woman in her profession isn’t anything more than an attractive assistant, with no other women to interact with truly. However brief, David Bowie’s depiction of Nikola Tesla is eerily spot-on. The always talented Andy Serkis assists his character. 

David Bowie as Nikola Tesla in ‘The Prestige’ Image: Warner Bros.

Arthur C. Clarke said, “magic is just science that we don’t understand yet.” When watching a film like The Prestige or The Illusionist, which also came out in 2006, this statement is so fitting one might think that the screenwriters took it to heart when crafting these films. 

In creating this movie, the ingenuity that went into the settings, the costumes, and the props/setup for the tricks themselves are impressive. All these things, mixed with the film’s pace, drive the story forward in a manner that is quite enjoyable to watch. 

A well-acted story rooted in dark humor, drama, and the urge to know what happens next are what makes The Prestige worth a place on your watchlist. 

-A Pen Lady