Every great magic trick consists of three acts. The first act is called the Pledge - the magician shows you something ordinary, but of course, it probably isn't. The second act is called the Turn - the magician makes his ordinary something do something extraordinary. Now you're looking for the secret… but you won't find it. That's why there's a third act, called the Prestige - this is the part with the twists and the turns, where lives hang in the balance, and you see something shocking you've never seen before.
This part of opening monologue spoken by Cutter (Michael Caine) reveals in many ways the central tenion in The Prestige: talent versus showmanship. The talent is embodied by Alfred "The Professor" Borden (Christian Bale), while the showmanship is represented by Rupert "The Great Danton" Angier (Hugh Jackman). Borden has the creative talent when creating new tricks, but it is his rival Angier knows better how to sell them to an audience. The two men, who are nominally friends at the beginning of the film, are soon driven apart by tragedy and their own inability to move past it. Instead, their anger at one another spirals out of control and consumes them.
Christopher Nolan's film is a labyrinth of perspective, the confusion generated by the fact that the basic structure of the film is Borden reading Angier's journal reading Borden's journal. The exploration of each other's lives only fuels their burning hatred and competition with one another, with the ultimate question being how far each one of them would go to avenge themselves on the other.
If this sounds like a pretty twisted premise, well, it is. And the film lets you know pretty early on that the price of the illusion may be greater than any normal person would want to pay. Over time, it becomes more and more twisted as the anger of the two men grows, leading to the final act, the Prestige, in which it is not only the means of the tricks that are revealed, but the fetid depths of each man's soul.
This is not to suggest that the film isn't entertaining. But it is a film about anger and revenge, and so it is by nature more 'staring into the abyss' manner of entertainment. The performers are quite good at this sort of material (Bale is known for it) and so there is quite a lot of value at seeing several artists doing what they do best. But, I must admit, they are not necessarily doing their best. Much of this may have been issues with the Christopher Priest's source novel (which jailnurse had read and was not quite that impressed by), but at no point does the film really immerse you in the psychological world of the characters, which is something that Nolan's films tend to be very good at.
The performances are spot-on. Jackman does a great job proving that he, like his character, is not afraid to 'get his hands dirty.' Bale is, of course, Bale. Caine is a grounding presence in the film as one of the few people who are not caught up in this harsh game. Scarlett Johannsen, Piper Perabo, Julia McCullough and Rebecca Hall all play the various women that the men get involved with, often with tragic results. It should be mentioned that this film also features the Cruel Elegance of David Bowie™ as Nikola Tesla, who adds a strange science-fiction twist on the story. One reviewer commented that Tesla's rivalry with Thomas Edison, which is touched on in this movie, might have been an more involving picture. It's possible... I certainly wouldn't mind seeing such a movie with Bowie reprising the role.
Wolverine encourages Storm to listen to Aladdin Sane.
Wally Pfister's Panavision cinematography was utterly grainless and crystal clear in the print I saw, further proof that while Super 35 may be a little more convenient, it is no match quality-wise for true anamorphic photography. Nathan Crowley's production design is very good, but the film never quite gains the feeling of period authenticity that made The Illusionist so bewitching. And while David Julyan's music was a very good accompaniment to the psychological breakdowns occuring in Memento and Insomnia, here the score comes across in the sound mix as somewhat drab.
The movie, despite its PG-13 rating, contains some extremely disturbing and effective imagery. The unbridled fury on display here has its own seductive allure, and the bizarre left turns the film sometimes takes are often surprisingly effective. I must admit that I do feel there are some moments when it doesn't quite hit all of the points it promises. But it tries real hard to give you a worthy prestige.
I want everybody to understand that even if I don't respond to each comment personally that I really do appreciate them. This is a very difficult time for me, and the support really does help. I also wish to extend a particular thanks to a certain individual who was extremely comforting to me, reminding me that there is life even in this time of emotional turmoil.