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The Prestige

Director Christopher Nolan's dark 2006 thriller about the fierce rivalry between two magicians.

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Dueling obsessions

  • Mar 17, 2007
Pros: Outstanding performances, very tightly controlled story and imagery

Cons: One romp into the unreal that is a little hard to accept

The Bottom Line: One of the best DVD's I've seen in a long time. Worth the time and effort (attention is required).

Plot Details: This opinion reveals major details about the movie''s plot.

The Prestige (latest movie by the Nolan brothers who gave us Memento) gets its title from the structure of a magic trick: the first piece is the pledge, the second is the turn, the applause getter is the finale—the prestige.

In order not to spoil anything, the summary of the movie will be extremely brief. Two magicians/illusionists, Robert Angier (Hugh Jackman) and Alfred Borden (Christian Bale) start off as friends when they are young men and looking to get their start. Before their independent careers begin, a tragedy occurs. Ordinarily a magician will be jealous of another who has invented a new trick, so with the profession comes obsession; the tragedy just focuses this obsession more finely. Any more and I would give away too much.

What I can say is that everyone involved was nearly flawless. This is the second Nolan movie that uses someone from Australia to play an American—Mr. Jackman pulls off the accent with no issues, even when angry which is where most actors fail a bit. Mr. Bale is his typical post-American Psycho best. I am not a fan of Scarlett Johansson (the beautiful assistant Olivia), however she did a better job than I have seen before (though her accent slips a little here and there). Michael Caine is one of the people who seem to be able to enjoy himself in any role and this one he gets to be both teacher, spy, friend in equal measures which he pulls off with his typical ease. I was surprised by two performances—not because I have disliked the people before, but because they shown in a way that is rare for this sort of movie. David Bowie plays Nichola Tesla and his quiet surety was very rare for someone who tends towards the bizarre—though since Tesla himself was like that, Mr. Bowie may have been an inspired choice. Bale’s wife, Sarah (Rebecca Hall) was able to give and get from Mr. Bale without effort.

It is easier to review a crappy movie because it doesn’t typically sound trite (there is far more fun and funny ways of saying something is awful). The last several movies (not documentaries) that I’ve seen have been horrible, so I am out of practice with writing good reviews. Needless to say, I really liked this film.

Spoilers below in the analysis

The movie isn’t about magic; The Prestige is about obsession. A movie about magicians would get boring pretty fast because it would just be about how they spiral in competition to create the better trick.

What drives the film is the initial tragedy—Borden is potentially responsible for Angier’s wife who drowns while unable to get out of the water tank during a standard trick. From here, each man tries to do something to the other man that will ruin his career. What Borden refers to as getting your hands dirty. For the most part, this engine works well.

It takes a turn for the extremely strange when Angier meets Tesla. He goes to see Tesla in Colorado Springs to get him to build a machine that he had seen Borden use for what was not the famous “Transported Man” trick. Two things about this: first, Tesla never built anything for Borden; second, the machine he does build causes a bit of a problem with regards to ‘reality’ and philosophy. The machine is supposed to use alternating current to transport an object from one place to another. The problem is that it keeps failing (sort of). What it actually does is cause a copy of the object to be created elsewhere. That is the twist in reality that is just a little hard to swallow. However, because the filmmakers do such a great job of framing the whole narrative, it is finally relatively easy to accept the otherwise absurd notion.

The philosophical/ethical issue hits both magicians. No reason to go into the almost pedestrian nature of the Borden issue—it is easy enough to understand. However, what Angier does each night he performs the trick is to destroy the double by drowning them. The obvious question raised is not answered and cannot be answered because the film uses the ‘clone’ as an image of the depth of the obsession each man has to ruin the life of the other. In the end, you discover that no one in this sordid tale has what can be considered a life (with the exception, perhaps of Mr. Cutter—Michael Caine). They are constructed of the obsessions that drive nearly every breath.

I will watch this film again with my partner and see if there are tells to the outcome—it remains unpredictable until the last few minutes. This works better than some final twist at the end that winds up undoing all that came before; the ending is the only natural outcome of the way the story is told.


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More The Prestige reviews
review by . July 01, 2011
Warner Bros. DVD review
I've not much to type of Christoper Nolan's finest accomplishment that hasn't been stated before. At this juncture, it wouldn't be unfair for the Nolans to abandon non-linear plotting; they've exploited the conceit so thoroughly here in conjunction with numerous interrelated visual metaphors in order to fully explore a variety of Victorian themes: the thrill of technology-driven entrepreneurship during the onset of modernity, science as magic explained and the nature of dualistic …
review by . December 30, 2009
A mind bending and twist a minute thriller....
I've seen some movies that try to blow your mind, I've seen some movies that try to challenge you and make you believe in the unimaginable. The Prestige does both, it challenges you while making you think you know what is going on and just when you have it all figured out it throws a Monkey wrench into your plans and leaves you totally baffled and dumbfounded even after the ending, so the real question is what is true in this film? and what is a lie?         The Prestige …
Quick Tip by . July 27, 2010
posted in Movie Hype
A few flaws, however a great , great film. Chris Nolan has yet to make a bad film. Christian Bale is oscar-worthy is this movie.
review by . May 15, 2009
The Prestige
The Prestige is probably one of the most underrated films of this this past decade.  With such a great cast that included Hugh Jackman, Christian Bale, Michael Caine and Scarlett Johansson, this great drama/thriller did not get all the attention it deserved.  This probably had a lot to do with the fact that The Illusionist was released around the same time of The Prestige.  One thing is for sure, this film was pure magic.      The Prestige follows two magicians, …
review by . September 09, 2009
Two rival magicians in the late 1800’s.  Each trying to sabotage each other, outdo each other, and decode the secrets of each others tricks.  The twists and turns in this movie never seem to end.  The story even brings in Houdini’s water closet escape trick as well as the great scientist Tesla.  The story does exaggerate a lot about Tesla but it seems to work in this film.   The acting is first class and Michael Caine puts in another great supporting spot.  …
review by . January 13, 2008
Pros: Great story-line and performances; outstanding direction.     Cons: Hard to wrap your mind around at first...     The Bottom Line: In the final analysis The Prestige is a complicated intelligent tale that genuinely beguiles and entertains.      Plot Details: This opinion reveals minor details about the movie''s plot. According to The Prestige (2006) there is difference between a magician and a wizard; the former entertains with gimmickry, …
review by . April 18, 2007
There were many surprises at this year's Academy Awards. One of the biggest was the absence of nominations for several films, most noticeably this one. Containing no sex, no nudity, no bad language, no gore, no grand action scenes, minimal comedy, a non-descript sountrack, and only several seconds of violence, this movie has none of the hallmarks of a top movie. But a top movie it is; it sat atop the box office charts for a month and everyone who has seen it comes away impressed. This is one of …
review by . April 17, 2007
This movie has certainly captured the art of magic, its complexities and wonder. As two friends' different philosophies on magic set tensions in motion, it is a tragic death that forever puts a wedge between them. A rivalry ensues between the more penetrating Borden (Bale) and the showman Angiers (Jackman). With three different time lines moving all at once through most of the movie, there's really never a moment's boredom. This storytelling is efficient and compelling. The characters are rich--they …
review by . March 31, 2007
posted in Movie Hype
Pros: Probably the single most...different movie plot I've ever seen.     Cons: Sometimes hard to follow the heavy English accents     The Bottom Line: Don't look away...     Plot Details: This opinion reveals minor details about the movie's plot. Are you watching closely?      I’d heard all sorts of good things about The Prestige so one day when my mother and I were out running errands, we decided to pop into the …
review by . March 29, 2007
Two rival magicians (Jackman and Bales) in the late 1800's. Each trying to sabotage each other, outdo each other, and decode the secrets of each others tricks. The twists and turns in this movie never seem to end. The story even brings in Houdini's water closet escape trick as well as the great scientist Tesla. The story does exaggerate a lot about Tesla but it seems to work in this film.    The acting is first class and Michael Caine puts in another great supporting spot. Scarlett …
About the reviewer
Paul Savage ()
I name and describe everything and classify most things. If 'it' already had a name, the one I just gave it is better.
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About this movie


The Prestige represents the second film that Christopher Nolan directed that Christian Bale starred in; the first was Batman Begins. 

Christian Bales character in The Prestige was named Alfred.  Alfred is the name of the Michael Canes character in Batman Begins and The Dark Knight.  Cane has co-starred with Bale in all three of these films, coincidentally directed by the same director of all three, Christopher Nolan. 

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