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Reviews
STAR RATINGS EXPLAINED
Unmissable 5 Stars
Excellent 4 Stars
Good 3 Stars
Poor 2 Stars
Tragic 1 Star

POSTER ART
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FILM DETAILS
Certificate
TBC
Cast
Christian Bale
Hugh Jackman
David Bowie
Scarlett Johansson
Michael Caine
Andy Serkis.
Directors
Christopher Nolan.
Screenwriters
Jonathan Nolan
Christopher Nolan.
Running Time
125 minutes

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The Prestige
Feud between good-looking magicians in Victorian England


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Plot
Celebrated Victorian stage magician Alfred Borden (Bale) stands accused of the murder of professional rival Rupert Angier (Jackman). The Prestige traces the course of their bitter feud, as their respective acts of sabotage become ever more deadly.


Review
The Prestige
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You always know where you are with Christopher Nolan, in that it’s often hard to know where you are. Or rather when. He’s a filmmaker who clearly believes that every story should have a beginning, a middle and an end, only not necessarily in that order. (Unless the usual order isn’t what you’re expecting; after all, he was the first director to begin the Batman story at the beginning.) So it’s no surprise that the man who brought us a modern noir about a man with short-term memory loss through a brain-straining reverse-chronological structure should present a Victorian murder-mystery tale of such beautiful convolutions that the dizzying struggle to follow it provides half the entertainment.
 
For, despite the return of Batman Begins’ Christian Bale and Michael Caine, and the big-name face-off promise that Nolan used to sell Insomnia, the film The Prestige most closely resembles is Memento. Hardly a shock when you note that his adaptation of Christopher Priest’s novel was penned with his sibling and Memento co-creator Jonathan, and that they optioned the book around the same time as Memento was released. But it is perhaps more of an eyebrow-raiser when you consider that The Prestige is situated in an entirely different genre. Or two.
 
Nolan’s already been vocal about how he didn’t want The Prestige to feel or look like a period movie, and it’s certainly steadfastly unconventional. The camera is predominantly handheld, rarely static, situated in interior locations with most exterior shots either blurred, out of focus or shrouded in freezing mist. Nolan is unconcerned with spreading out historical vistas or dazzling us with period detail; instead he wants us to focus on the detail of the characters. Like a street-illusionist making coins dance across his knuckles, he draws his audience in as close as possible. The harder we’re looking, the more we’re concentrating, the more effective his ultimate misdirection will prove.
 
We begin with Michael Caine carefully handling a twitchy yellow canary as he explains the three acts of a magic trick — the set-up, the performance and the effect, or prestige — to a young girl. He makes the bird disappear, seemingly crushing it to death in the process. As he does so, we cut to a grave-looking Hugh Jackman, as Rupert Angier (aka The Great Danton), performing a spectacular trick that features blue crackles of electricity writhing around a towering array of machinery that wouldn’t look out of place in Dr. Frankenstein’s laboratory. The audience gasps in half-fearful anticipation; Angier invites members of the crowd on stage. One of them is Christian Bale, as Alfred Borden (aka The Professor), in disguise, face swathed in shadow. Borden ducks into the wings, barging into a stagehand who tries to block his way. “I’m part of the trick, you idiot!” he bellows, whipping off his fake beard. Soon after, something terrible has happened and Borden is charged with murder. While gaoled, he’s given Angier’s diary. He begins reading it, triggering a flashback in which we see Angier reading Borden’s memoirs, which triggers yet another flashback. Framing device frames framing device, flashbacks switch to flashforwards, and quickly we’re entangled in a murky conundrum.
 
Nolan keeps the mood eerie and unsettling, and with all its Gothic trimmings The Prestige comes to feel a little like a slowburn horror picture. Of course, it’s never that simple, and the director requires his leads to deliver a pair of carefully complex performances, like stage assistants for whom a single wrong move or missed mark can spell disaster for the unfurling illusion.
 
Hugh Jackman, revealing the acting depths that the likes of X-Men and Van Helsing have denied him, is at first glance an obvious fit for Angier. The Great Danton is a consummate showman, all smooth moves and glistening repertoire. Yet beneath the sheen simmers an increasingly sour man who, while initially armed with a hatred of Borden, becomes fixated on stealing the secret of his key trick and bettering it, wringing the morality out of his soul in the process. The closest we’ve come to seeing Jackman exploring such dark places was in X-Men 2, but here we are truly seeing a new side to him — Jackman for adults, if you like.
 
At this point, it’d be nice to shove in an easy reference to ‘sparks flying’ between Jackman and his co-star Christian Bale. Yet they share surprisingly little screentime. Angier and Borden’s relationship predominantly involves watching each other from the stalls, peeping through disguises and stalking in the darkness, with a blast of violence every now and again. Much of their conflict throughout the film is via proxies: Olivia, the glamorous assistant who becomes a shared love (Scarlett Johansson, struggling so hard with an English accent she forgets to engage her audience, trilling the film’s only bum note); Cutter, the sagacious mentor who believes it’s pointless getting into magic unless you’re prepared to get your hands dirty (a superb Michael Caine); and Tesla, the reclusive electrical pioneer who possibly holds the key to the mystery (David Bowie — the quirky casting only just paying off thanks to his discomfitingly glassy delivery).
 
It’s Bale, though, who has the toughest job of the cast. Borden is the unsung genius, an awkward, brusque man who isn’t interested in embellishing the usual set of conjurations but in crafting something entirely new. His crowd-pleasing instincts initially stink, but his devotion to his art is powerfully all-consuming, much to the detriment of his marriage. Both his character and many of his actions suggest he’s the bad guy of the piece, but Bale, sensitively tempering Borden’s gloomy intensity, ensures our sympathies are maintained throughout — at times he comes dangerously close to snatching them fully away from Jackman.
 
The true nature of The Prestige, the themes it explores in its own, strange, fractured manner, can’t, won’t and shouldn’t be discussed here. This movie isn’t just some stylish analogy for the pitfalls of celebrity, and there’s far more to it than its dissection of the corrupting effects of obsession and retribution. Certainly, some of its many sharp turns could confound to the point of exasperation. Some will angrily decry it as cheating. And indeed, the problem with movie-making as sleight-of-hand is you have to reveal the secret at some point; you have to show where that dove went. That’s a problem no magician has to deal with. Yet Nolan, pulling off a masterful adaptation of a difficult novel, performs his big reveal — which, you may be surprised to read, does come at the end — with faultless precision. But that’s all we’ll say, and that’s where we’ll leave it. You wouldn’t want us to spoil the prestige now, would you?


Verdict
Odd, but brilliantly so. It's a small film that feels big, a period drama that looks modern, defying comparison to anything but Nolan himself.


Reviewed by Dan Jolin


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Your Reviews

Average user rating for The Prestige
Empire Star Rating

Magic

I love how this film is such a reflection of itself. This film describes the obsessions and disastrous contributions of the world of magicians, while the film contributed its own illusions. Nolan didn't really focus on the historical detail, which is a particular relief because we were able to focus on the depth of the characters. Which really helped move the story along. It also meant I enjoyed the thrilling, unexpected and shocking moments - the ending almost killed me! Caine, Bale and Jackman... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by LifeNeedsMeaning at 19:38, 26 September 2012 | Report This Post


The Prestige Review

Full of twists and turns, The Prestige is a dazzling period piece that never stops challenging the audience. ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by the film man at 10:35, 04 February 2012 | Report This Post


Phenomenal Setup, Disappointing Ending

The Prestige boasts two of the most talented actors working today, and the script feels original and, basically, brilliant. The story will grip you right from the off, as two budding magicians who become rivals battle it out to find the best trick (fans will say that the story is more complex than this, but that really is the story in a nutshell). However, the crescendo is such a monumental disappointment that feeling cheated is a total inevitability. My theory is that, similar to a magic trick,... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by blaud at 15:18, 19 March 2011 | Report This Post


Are you watching closely?

Christopher Nolan is shaping up to be one of this century’s most successful directors, delivering hit after hit, quality upon quality. The only exception to that would be the tedious ia”t his best he is a movie making genius, at his worst, an efficient director. ]estige”oduced between projects, those being numbers three and four in my all time top ten, Begins”]“The Dark Knight”laimed that he was making a small movie to tide him over but ended up with an all start blockbuster, and whis... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by neopol at 13:11, 25 February 2011 | Report This Post


WELCOME, to the greatest magic trick ever seen

Are you watching closely? A simple question. This may have little meaning at this point. Or you may be infering that you need to watch this closely because of the time-shifting, complicated storyline that makes up this forgotton classic. While this inference is true, if it were purely this I would not be writing my first review. No, you should watch closely for something more. Very few films are truly original. Never has a film acted as a magic trick itself. Full of intrigue, and rivarlyr as... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by Vincent04 at 22:23, 04 November 2010 | Report This Post


The pledge, the turn and the PRESTIGE!

The only thing I can say is that Nolan is one of the best directors of the last decade!! ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by The Great Danton at 09:18, 31 October 2010 | Report This Post


Clever and Absorbing

I seriously doubt you can stop watching this film until its finished. Well-acted, intelligent story and a great twist at the end. Not as good as Memento, or the Batman films, but great stuff nonetheless. ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by Kieran94 at 12:47, 17 January 2010 | Report This Post


Cool movie!! (though I didn't quite get the end...) ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by FanaticalAboutFilm at 14:08, 04 January 2010 | Report This Post


Cool movie!! (though I didn't quite get the end...) ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by FanaticalAboutFilm at 14:08, 04 January 2010 | Report This Post


just brilliant. ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by jessicaaa at 19:18, 16 January 2009 | Report This Post


Outstanding!

This film i regard as one of the best films ever made. Seriously. This is absolutely amazing. The first time you watch this film, the ending sends shivers up your spine, and is one of the best twists i have ever seen in any film. Nolan is a genius and this film is genius. 4 stars empire? this film is a Masterpiece and 5 stars, If there ever was a 5 star movie, this is it! ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by Coyleone at 22:46, 24 December 2008 | Report This Post


Amazing!

Nolan shows he's got more up his sleeve than Batman with this twisted and clever tale of rivalling magicians. The plot twists and turns (in a good) and the ending is genius. So good that watching this film 2nd time when you know what's going is a whole different experience to the first. Nolan's ability to make the implausible plausible is used to great effect and his knack for non-linear narrative shines. Of course the cast are all awesome. ..even Johansson who Empire don't seem to agr... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by SkullKassidy at 14:49, 06 December 2008 | Report This Post


Wow.

Wow. I love this film. Currently, I regard it as my favourite, however, there is likely to be better. Its a fantastic film and the plot and ideas are great, but as I'm only 15, I haven't seen much in the line of "Great Films". I'd love some recommendations, but still this film is AWESOME! =] ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by sarah.hmmm. at 19:57, 27 November 2008 | Report This Post


You'd better watch closely.

An incredible film. The acting is spot-on, the twist was good, and the overall atmosphere was very well-generated. I watched it four times; it's still a treat to watch. Another must-see Nolan near-masterpiece. ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by Haladflire65 at 04:56, 24 November 2008 | Report This Post


Incredibly genious. Almost a masterpiece! ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by ARmy2510 at 21:34, 01 November 2008 | Report This Post


Are you watching closely?

The Prestige is an eerie, creepy and dark, but beautiful movie. Oscar-worthy performances, stunning locations, perfect screenplay. This thriller has become, just like THAT, in a classic. Mesmerizing, dazzling, astonishing and riveting. Great Movie. Honestly, man, don't miss this. A masterpiece. Really worth watching. A must-see. Are you watching closely? ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by nc_jj at 00:50, 12 September 2008 | Report This Post


The Prestige

Possiby one of the finest scripted films i have ever seen. The sheer brilliance of the acting, lot twists and as always Christopher Nolan proves himself as one of the greatest directors of our time. A truly brilliant film. ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by Blue Ryan at 19:34, 08 September 2008 | Report This Post


Genius!

I never seen a movie in my life that if you went out of the room for just a minute you might aswell stop watching it,I never thought there was such a movie,I"ve been proved wrong,this movie has countless amount of twists,a lot better than chris nolan"s previous movie(batman begins).I have to buy this movie. ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by JohnPaul1996 at 15:31, 22 July 2008 | Report This Post


Genius!

I never seen a movie in my life that if you went out of the room for just a minute you might aswell stop watching it,I never thought there was such a movie,I"ve been proved wrong,this movie has countless amount of twists,a lot better than chris nolan"s previous movie(batman begins).I have to buy this movie. ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by JohnPaul1996 at 15:31, 22 July 2008 | Report This Post


love it.

i love every aspect of this film that i used it in my media studies AS level exam this summer. I find that the use of Nolans familiar non-linear narrative structure is the most fascinating element of the film. Of course the actors, especially Bale, Jackman and Caine, have to be given credit considering they are able to bring the film alive, surprising in itself considering none of them have ever appeared in a period drama before. However, this was Nolans intention, so they were unfamiliar with t... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by em599 at 20:12, 20 June 2008 | Report This Post


The Plausible Prestige

The Prestige is an unforgettable grandeur to the show business world; had it not been released, then stoicism and vulgar incomprehensibility would plague this unprecedented and belligerent world we live in. Christopher Nolan is undoubtedly a true genius; give him a pad and paper, and the final outcome is this. Following the exceptional performance of Hugh Jackman and Christian Bale, the way Nolan projected the intense rivalry between these two magicians could only be summed down to one wo... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by amanbhogal at 17:27, 26 May 2008 | Report This Post


Wow...just...wow... ... More

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Posted by scottia2 at 19:29, 25 April 2008 | Report This Post


awesome thriller

WHAT A MOVIE !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! ... More

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Posted by mserpico88 at 00:29, 18 April 2008 | Report This Post


Loved it (I think)

Finally got to watch this last night and have been thinking about it ever since. Jackman and Bale are superb and I personally enjoyed David Bowie as Tesla. Pointless casting of Scarlett Johansson as "totty", but hey she's got nice lips and a cracking pair of nawks. The Borden ending was not unexpected but still good, but Angiers ending just isn't sitting right with me! The whole message of the film is that there is always a trick, always a sleight of hand, but Angier uppance comes via ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by badsandwich at 20:37, 26 March 2008 | Report This Post


Prestige all around

Loved this movie. One of my favorites from last year. Jackman is a revelation and Bale is astounding. ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by lynnshep at 00:34, 26 March 2008 | Report This Post


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