The Prestige Review
By Joe Lozito
"Are you watching closely?" Just as magicians might use this taunt on their audience, so director Christopher Nolan might be prodding his audience with his tricky thriller "The Prestige". Teamed up again with his brother and writing partner Jonathan (they based that unforgettable amnesiac vehicle "Memento"
on one of Jonathan's short stories) as well as his "Batman Begins"
stars Christian Bale and Michael Caine, Mr. Nolan once again weaves a finely crafted story of trickery and deception involving rival magicians in turn-of-the-century England.
Rupert Angier (Hugh Jackman) and Alfred Borden (Mr. Bale) start out as friends and budding magicians working for the great Milton (real-life illusionist Ricky Jay). An accident during one of the performances turns the two men into bitter rivals obsessed with finding each other's secrets and then topping them. The two actors have a grand ol' time biting into their various accents. Mr. Jackman's is more refined while Mr. Bale's wouldn't seem out of place while sweeping a chimney. Both men give fine performances in roles that by their very nature must be ciphers. We are meant to follow these men, but not quite know them.
Angier's quest takes him to America where he meets up with none other than Nikola Tesla, played by none other than David Bowie in what is a surprisingly subtle performance. Michael Caine as always is a welcome presence. And Scarlett Johansson, for the first time in a while, acquits herself nicely as an aspiring assistant. Her particular talents lend themselves to supporting work, let's keep it that way.
As is his want, Mr. Nolan jumps between time periods and voice-overs with reckless abandon. The movie's real trick is that it all somehow manages to congeal. As "The Prestige" twisted its last twist and turned that one last turn, I watched with glee as it unfolded to its inevitable conclusion. The script was airtight. Like "Memento", the Nolans had once again crafted a brilliant piece of writing.
But then I looked closer.
The last act - which involves some plot points I, sadly, can't write about - makes sense logistically but not logically. Let's just say one of the characters goes to way more trouble then he needs to in order to achieve an illusion. The Nolan's version is more dramatic, to be sure, and much more grand. But it's a bit over-the-top. "The Prestige" had me up until that point, but like a good magic trick, it's much more fun when you don't know the secret. The Nolans want you to watch closely, alright, but not, it would seem, too close.