Sleight Of Hand
♦Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk comes out in cinemas next Friday 21 July and so we at Tripwire have decided to rewatch and assess the nine films he has released prior to this just like we did with Quentin Tarantino and the Coen Bros. Next up is The Prestige, Nolan’s fifth film, which was released back in 2006
Director: Christopher Nolan
Stars: Christian Bale, Hugh Jackman, Scarlett Johansson, Michael Caine
Just one year after Batman Begins, Nolan’s next film was again a change in direction. The Prestige, based on the Christopher Priest novel of the same name, is a period drama set in Edwardian London about two rival magicians, Alfred Borden, played by Christian Bale, and Robert Angier (Hugh Jackman) who are hellbent on trumping each other with the ultimate magic trick. Also on hand is Michael Caine, back from Batman Begins, as Cutter, a man who designs magic tricks for a living.
The Prestige deals with duality. Angier and Borden begin their careers as close friends but are riven apart after a personal tragedy that Angier blames Borden for. The drama and the tension escalates until the film’s conclusion where the fantastical elements come to a head.
Christian Bale is very good as Borden, a man with a dark secret and a seemingly schizophrenic personality, and Jackman acts as the perfect counterpoint, the elegant gentleman to Borden’s down-at-heel working class figure. Jackman has never felt more like a proper actor than he has done so here too.
The Prestige is also about obsession and how the rivalry between Angier and Borden threatens to destroy both men. Johansson as Olivia Wenscombe, who has an affair with both men at one point, is also very good as is Caine as the loyal sidekick to Angier, who finds himself caught in the middle of the rivalry between the two magicians.
It is interesting to compare and contrast The Prestige with Batman Begins. Both share two cast members (Bale and Caine) and a director but they couldn’t be more different enterprises. The Prestige deals with the hubris of two men, one of whom hides a terrible secret and the other is prepared to lose his soul and his humanity in search of the ultimate spectacle. This film feels very literary with preoccupations that would be very much at home in a novel and that is partly what lends it its visual style.
The Prestige is a bewitching and magical film with strong central performances and a very unique feel and visual language utilised throughout. Nolan manages to make the act of magic feel exciting and slightly subversive with each set piece brought to life magnificently on stage. The Victorian setting is wonderfully realised as well. Cameos from David Bowie as scientist Nikolai Tesla and Andy Serkis as his lackey Alley add a little extra to the mix.
Five films into his career and it is impossible to pin down Nolan as a particular filmmaker. The Prestige does have elements of noir but it is a far richer and more complex film than something like Insomnia for example and it rewards rewatching as vital clues are foreshadowed at various points throughout the film to help the viewer to unravel Borden’s secret.
The Prestige is a film that will stay with you long after you finish watching it as it is clever, inventive, rich, elegant and showcasing the distinctive visual hallmarks of a truly original modern film auteur.