|The Prestige (2006)
Starring: Christian Bale, Hugh Jackman, Michael Caine, Scarlett Johansson, David Bowie, Piper Perabo, Andy Serkis
Director: Christopher Nolan
Category: Suspense / Sci-Fi
It seems like every year we hear about a new group of up-and-coming filmmakers with the potential to become the next great Hollywood director, but it’s quite a rarity when the person in question really does rise to the occasion. Christopher Nolan is such a director. Over the past six years, Nolan has not only produced one of the greatest thrillers (“Memento”) in the history of the genre, but can also be credited for expertly rebooting one of the biggest superhero franchises in Hollywood (“Batman Begins”). And now, he’s struck gold for a third time with his sci-fi period drama, “The Prestige.”
Based on the novel by Christopher Priest (the title of which refers to the final step in performing a successful magic trick), “The Prestige” is much like an illusion itself: it’s reasonably simple, and yet still manages to amaze anyone watching. And much like any standard magic trick, you can even catch the secret of this cinematic illusion by taking the advice of one of its characters at the beginning of the film. “Are you watching closely?” It certainly pays off if you do, because while the rest of the movie may appear incredibly predictable from there on out, it’s still one of the best films you’ll see all year.
Hugh Jackman and Christian Bale star as two rivaling magicians in turn-of-the-century England. Alfred Borden (Bale) is the more talented when it comes to actually performing the tricks, while Rupert Angier (Jackman) excels at the ever-so-important theatrics of the trade. Following a horrific accident while apprenticing a more prudent magician (Ricky Jay), the two men begin a dangerous competition that puts the lives of everyone they know at risk. When Borden creates an amazing new trick called “The Transported Man,” however, Angier becomes so obsessed with discovering the secret that he’ll do whatever it takes to get back on top.
A major reason Nolan has become one of the premier filmmakers in the industry is because he never casts an actor that isn’t completely deserving of the role. Sure, Jackman and Bale may have both played superheroes, but the reason those specific franchises thrived is precisely because they’re such great performers. And they don’t disappoint this time around either, working overtime to bring a sense of reality to a world that’s entirely fantasy. They do get some nice support along the way -- including Michael Caine as a neutral friend, Scarlett Johansson as Angier’s assistant, Rebecca Hall as Borden's wife, and David Bowie as world-renowned physicist Nikola Tesla -- but they wind up carrying most of the dramatic weight.
Much like “Memento,” “The Prestige” opens virtually at the end of the story, and from there takes off in two directions: the past and the not-so-distant past. The constant back-and-forth flip-flopping between narratives is initially disconcerting, but once you realize that Nolan isn’t trying to fool the audience with some cheap form of editing trickery, it’s hardly noticeable. Unlike fellow twistmaster M. Night Shyamalan, Nolan deals in the pure simplicity of the suspense genre. Instead of delivering complex setups to sell a simple idea (i.e. “The Village”), he does the complete opposite. The big twist may be a bit complicated, but he leaves all of the necessary clues out there for everyone to see. Some might say it’s anticlimactic, but I just call it sheer brilliance.
Dear Buena Vista: As a loyal fan of Christopher Nolan’s “The Prestige,” I implore you to fire those responsible for putting together such a miserable DVD release. With only one actual bonus feature to speak of – the six-part behind-the-scenes featurette “The Director’s Notebook: The Cinematic Sleight of Hand – and a glorified photo gallery (“The Art of The Prestige”) acting purely as supplemental fodder, I feel genuinely cheated by the lack of behind-the-scenes material included in this single-disc effort. Sure, it’s nice to discover little tidbits about the film (like how production design was based around the concept of a Victorian Tokyo), but where’s our audio commentary with the cast and crew, not to mention a more comprehensive making-of documentary? The official petition for a proper, multi-disc special edition starts here. You better get cracking; my birthday is just around the corner.