The Prestige (2006)

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Review #282 of 365
Film: The Prestige (2006) [PG-13] 128 minutes
WIP™ Scale: $14.50
Where Viewed: United Artists Denver Pavilions Stadium 15, Denver, CO
When 1st Seen: 20 October 2006
Time: 4:00 p.m.
Film's Official Website
DVD Release Date: unscheduled

Directed by: Christopher Nolan (Batman Begins)
Screenplay by: Jonathan Nolan (Memento) and Christopher Nolan (Batman Begins) based on the novel by Christopher Priest (The Book on the Edge of Forever)

Featured Cast (Where You Might Remember Him/Her From):
Hugh Jackman (Scoop) • Christian Bale (The New World) • Michael Caine (The Weather Man) • Piper Perabo (Imagine Me & You) • Rebecca Hall ("McLeod's Daughters") • Scarlett Johansson (The Black Dahlia) • David Bowie (The Man Who Fell to Earth) • Andy Serkis (King Kong) • Roger Rees (Garfield: A Tail of Two Kitties)

Soundtrack: Download now from David Julyan - The Prestige (Original Score)— or — order the CD soundtrack below

Click for 'Review Lite' [a 150-word or less review of this film]

Note: This review contains no spoilers. To read a second review with spoilers and the solution to the cipher puzzle in the review, click here.
British brothers Christopher and Jonathan Nolan, creators of Memento, have demonstrated a penchant for stories that challenge audiences chronologically, play tricks on the mind, and reveal shocking thriller-style endings that will have people talking for years. They have shown no mercy to those who refuse to shut up and pay attention. Such viewers will describe their work as "needlessly complex". Which is simply code for "I didn't follow that because I was in the restroom taking care of needs arising from my upsizing to the large Icee® for only a quarter more," or "I had to step out to text message a friend because this blah-blah movie theater won't let us use our cell phones during the movie," or "my attention span has evolved such that it lasts no longer than it takes to read one phrase of the CNN® news crawl." To all of these people, a word of advice, plan to see The Prestige no fewer than three times before you post on or your blogs with flames about how you didn't like this movie because you didn't get this movie.

"…destined for most critic's top 10 lists."
The Pledge
"…the magician shows you something ordinary; but, of course, it probably isn't."

What starts off as a perfectly simple film with two hired stagehands, the American Rupert Angier (Hugh Jackman) and the English Alfred Borden (Christian Bale) working with a not-so-great magician as part of the act takes an immediate turn for the worse.

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Each act, the two get selected to run up on stage and tie the knots on the wrists and ankles of Julia McCullough (Piper Perabo), wife of Angier, and the magician's, beautiful, on-stage assistant. She is then lowered into an enclosed water tank with 60 seconds to escape. The knots are supposed to be east to escape, but during one show, Borden may have tied a more elaborate knot that looks more dangerous, and turns out, prevents her from escape. She drowns in the tank before the engineer of the illusion, Cutter (Michael Caine) can set her free.

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Sure enough, Angier blames Borden for the accident, though Borden claims never to have been sure which knot he tied. Later, both men part ways and become illusionists on their own. Each man works hard to build his career with Borden also finding love and fathering a child with his wife Sarah (Rebecca Hall). Cutter continues to work with Angier to create superb act. The two rivals battle back and forth, each showing up at the other's in disguise and throwing a monkey wrench into the act. This escalates with Angier causing Borden to lose the tips of a few fingers on his left hand. Ultimately, Borden, using the stage name of The Professor crafts the greatest trick of all time—The Teleported Man—where he is able to teleport in the time it takes for a bouncing rubber ball from one box on the stage to another. Fascination with how he does the trick becomes the sole obsession of Angiers along with doing the trick better. He goes so far as to plant his assistant, Olivia Wenscombe (Scarlett Johansson) into Borden's employ to try to get to the bottom of the trick.

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The Turn
"…the magician makes this ordinary something do something extraordinary.
Caesar's Cipher key 18•11•0•3•16•11•21•19•11•8•25

Zipping back and forth in time, the story is told through the journals of Borden and Angier with Angier deciphering what he believes to be Borden's stolen journal page by page sending him on what Borden believes to be a wild goose chase to the mountains of Colorado Springs where Nickola Tesla (David Bowie) and his assistant Alley (Andy Serkis) have fled to test Tesla's theories on wireless electricity out of the watchful eye of his nemesis Thomas Edison and Angiers believes Borden has gone previously to acquire the teleportation boxes he uses in his act; and alternating with Borden reading the acquired-after-his-death journal of Angiers while he sits in prison on death row for causing the drowning death of his arch rival.

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There are so many twists and turns here, I've tried hard not to reveal too much. Suffice it to say that just about everything you think is happening isn't and vice versa. But, that's not to say that as you watch the film you should say, "Oh, that's not real, that's the magic part because it seems real and the opposite must be true therefore." No. The tricks are more deeply embedded than that with the most amazing trick turning out to be no trick at all.

The Prestige
"…the twists and turns, where lives hang in the balance, and you see something shocking, that you've never seen before."

It will take a great deal of time, undoubtedly, for the moral implications of this film to settle in. From the first savage squishing of a dove in a collapsible cage—yikes--to the stunning and brutal way in which Angier frames Borden for his own murder, there is much to ponder. The brilliance of the script, which follows the three parts of a magician's illusion, continues to unfold only to refer back on itself most recursively as it defies viewers to contemplate how it will ultimately deliver on the prestige itself if at all. Follow the rubber bouncing ball. I can only promise that it does deliver and big. Also, by the end, don't ask yourself if you ended up caring about the two illusionists or rooting for one vs. the other to win their escalating battle for top illusionist or most successful in life. Ask yourself instead why you are contemplating those questions at all when, because you've seen it, you know the biggest secret of the film of all, which renders both questions moot or, at least, insufficient? Could it be that everything has been done so well that as you sit, you are still quite under the illusion? It's like the first time anyone ever teaches you to do a card trick, and while you have no idea why the trick works, you perform it anyway, and it works, and the other kids are amazed, and someone asks you how did you do it, and you say, without skipping a beat "It's magic." Because, actually, for all intents and purposes, it still is. The acting is superb, with a very special nod to David Bowie who delivers an amazing performance as Tesla that will leave most people wondering who on earth is that barely recognizable face. The directing might prompt one slight criticism and that was allowing some of the lines to be mumbled here and there. The cinematography is expansive and bold. The musical score suits the film endowing it with blaze and mystery, and the special effects are outstanding. All tolled, The Prestige is destined for most critic's top 10 lists.

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No doubt, a lot of people who have seen both The Prestige and The Illusionist will draw comparisons as to which is a better film. The latter is really a love story with a fantastic twist, magical overtones, and a supernatural flair. The former is really about obsession and the downfall of becoming consumed with one's work to the utter exclusion of any other satisfaction--traits exhibited not only by the lead illusionists but also by Edison and Tesla. The films are, therefore, quite different and defy most comparisons other than that they share a certain theme and time period. As compromise, why not permit each to fill its niche perfectly, and allow the recent release of The Prestige to provoke an entirely new audience to receive the less-publicized, currently longer-running, Illusionist? Or hasn't The Prestige made it the dangers of such obsessions all too apparent?

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Cast Members
Hugh JackmanChristian BaleMichael Caine
Piper PeraboRebecca HallScarlett Johansson
David BowieAndy SerkisRoger Rees
Christopher Nolan
Jonathan Nolan
Christopher Priest
The Book
The CD Soundtrack
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The Prestige (2006) Review-lite [150-word cap]
British brothers Christopher and Jonathan Nolan, creators of Memento, have demonstrated a penchant for stories that challenge audiences chronologically, play mind tricks, and reveal shocking thriller-style endings that will have people talking for years. Their latest effort, The Prestige, starts off with the accidental drowning of stage hand, Rupert Angier's (Hugh Jackman) wife and magician's assistant, Julia (Piper Perabo), at the hands of a possibly tied wrong knot by friend and fellow stage hand, Alfred Borden (Christian Bale) and quickly turns into an all out obsessive competition between the two as they emerge from the wreckage world-class illusionists trying to out do each other on stage while simultaneously destroying the other's livelihood. The moral implications of this film take time to settle in. Brilliantly, the script follows the three parts of a magician's illusion and continues to eventually reveal the biggest twists of all. Follow the red rubber bouncing ball.
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