DVD Review: The Prestige
Beneath the stage of a great magic act, Robert Angier (Hugh Jackman) is trapped, drowning in a tank full of water. Alfred Borden (Christian Bale, affecting a convincing working class English accent) apparently stumbles onto the scene, only to end up accused of Angier's murder. While in prison, Borden receives Angier's journal and reads about his trip to Colorado to visit Nikola Tesla (a nice turn by David Bowie). And, while he was there, Angier was also decoding Borden's own encrypted notebook. So begins the multi-layered narrative of Christopher Nolan's The Prestige, replete with untrustworthy narrators and complicated trickery.
Although I may have knocked Nolan's action scenes in Batman Begins, I do love that film, considering it to have one of the best edited, fast-paced storylines I can think of. Still, I must admit that I was glad to see Nolan returning to more familiar territory with The Prestige, covering typically Nolan-esque themes of motive, illusion and delusion. Driving the film forward is the rivalry between Angier and Borden, two magicians divided by a deadly incident. They steal one another's acts, interfere with their shows and engage in more straightforward acts of violence. In particular, Angier is obsessed with discovering the secret behind Borden's 'Transported Man' act, which he comes to believe Tesla has had a hand in designing.
Nolan continues to draw first rate actors to him. Michael Caine gives us a typically engaging performance as the man who designs Angier's acts, Scarlet Johansson is the beautiful assistant caught between the two rivals, and Andy 'Gollum' Serkis is Tesla's assistant. And as usual, it's not solely intellectual themes and dense plotting: Nolan expertly imbues scenes with atmosphere, and takes full advantage of his outstanding cast. Unsurprising really, as it's the fallibility of humanity, and our weak link to the Universe around us, that seems to fascinate Nolan most of all.
There is, of course, a trick to this film. But Nolan has also clearly learned something from the world of magic: misdirection. What seems like it is going to be the film's chief surprise – I won't even allude to it – is actually quite easy to figure out. In fact, I think that in the lead up to the revelation, the film is pretty much acting as if the audience already knows. But of course, there is another surprise as well, of the typically mind-blowing, plot-falling-into-place-all-of-a-sudden kind that we expect from Nolan, a revelation that a day later still has me exclaiming, “Oh, of course! Because of that, then also...” and “Oh! No wonder they kept going back to that! What could be better symbolism for...”
I'm going to go out on a limb here. Having only seen the film once, I feel a strong urge to proclaim that Nolan has here made another Memento, only in a completely different fashion, and with a completely different feel. Whether or not I'll feel the same way after I've seen The Prestige half a dozen times, I don't know. But the thing is, I probably am going to watch it half a dozen times either way.