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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

Bale and Nolan shold marry and continue to make beautiful movie babies together. ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by Kat113 at 01:55, 24 February 2008 | Report This Post


Magic and Men To Enjoy!

Unusual and Magical, The Prestige is a different animal to any other tricks and show films. The cast are peferct apart from Scarlett Johanasson with her bad English accent and her stupid pout, Sir Micheal Caine once agains does well. But the top two, Hugh Jackman and Christian Bale, are brillant as well handsome. Hugh is charismtic then dark, Christian is cocky then charming. They both do very well until a shocking ending that shakes you to the bone. The magic is quite amazing apart from anythin... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by joanna likes films at 09:29, 11 January 2008 | Report This Post


RE: Very good Film

L: KnightofZyryab Well that's their opinion, not yours.bviously.  And thankfully. not call Memento nor The Prestige, sublime - the former is highly competent but leans purely on its narrative device...hey were sublime "by contrast" to Begins - while entertaining and far superior to the Joel Schumacher franchise instalments - was littered with some rather apparent flaws.  And tainly one of the best noir films in recent memory.  To simply say "ah, it leans purely on its... More

Posted by max314 at 19:35, 29 December 2007 | Report This Post


RE: Very good Film

L: max314 L: indysid I enjoyed this film as it was directed by a director who knows how to handle these types of films. Good Film , as good as Memento, just not as good as Batman Begins, although its a different Genre] nbelievable. You're actually suggesting that Beginsuperior piece of cinema to ]The PrestigeBeginsve provided the DC franchise with a much needed reboot, but let's not throw this out of  perspective.  /i] had some pretty glaring script deficiencies... More

Posted by KnightofZyryab at 19:03, 29 December 2007 | Report This Post


RE: Very good Film

L: indysid I enjoyed this film as it was directed by a director who knows how to handle these types of films. Good Film , as good as Memento, just not as good as Batman Begins, although its a different Genre] nbelievable. You're actually suggesting that Beginsuperior piece of cinema to ]The PrestigeBeginsve provided the DC franchise with a much needed reboot, but let's not throw this out of  perspective.  /i] had some pretty glaring script deficiencies (how many dia... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by max314 at 17:41, 29 December 2007 | Report This Post


RE: RE:

L: Indio I have to agree, I thought The Illusionist was a lot better than The Prestige, I could see The Prestiges twist coming a long way off, not helped at all by Bales 'cor blimey guv'nor' accent (in fact a lot of the accents were all over the shop, Bowie/Tesla was no better either in my opinion) or by daring to assume most of the audience wouldn't spot him with a stick on moustache either. sp; No NO NO......I said that there was no way The Illusionist was better than The Prest... More

Posted by Anne Hedley at 22:24, 26 December 2007 | Report This Post


RE: RE:

The Illusionist was largely mediocre. If you thought that the power of The Prestige lay in spotting the "twist", which a blind dog picked twenty minutes into the film, you rather spectactularly missed the point of it. Prestige was my number one for last year. Amazing film.  ... More

Posted by Lightfoot at 18:57, 26 December 2007 | Report This Post


RE: RE:

I have to agree, I thought The Illusionist was a lot better than The Prestige, I could see The Prestiges twist coming a long way off, not helped at all by Bales 'cor blimey guv'nor' accent (in fact a lot of the accents were all over the shop, Bowie/Tesla was no better either in my opinion) or by daring to assume most of the audience wouldn't spot him with a stick on moustache either.     ... More

Posted by Indio at 00:48, 26 December 2007 | Report This Post


RE: RE:

L: Wilbert L: theoriginalcynic It was ok - usionist was better ending failed to wow and like most magic tricks was obvious once you know the secret thought the Illusionist was an awful film. Also, all magic tricks tend to be obvious once you know the secret. They even say this in the film when Borden shows his wife the secret behind a trick and she is distinctly unimpressed. sp; There is no way The Illusionist was better than The Prestige.  The Prestige consistantly out... More

Posted by Anne Hedley at 00:25, 25 December 2007 | Report This Post


RE:

L: theoriginalcynic It was ok - usionist was better ending failed to wow and like most magic tricks was obvious once you know the secret thought the Illusionist was an awful film. Also, all magic tricks tend to be obvious once you know the secret. They even say this in the film when Borden shows his wife the secret behind a trick and she is distinctly unimpressed. ... More

Posted by Wilbert at 23:48, 24 December 2007 | Report This Post


It was ok - the illusionist was better... the ending failed to wow and like most magic tricks was obvious once you know the secret ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by theoriginalcynic at 17:43, 23 November 2007 | Report This Post


The Prestige

Made for the US market. The bar scenes you see Cutter and Boden in look something out of Cheers. As for the portrayal of Boden's relationship with his daughter, sacharrine rubbish. Jailed victorian convicts didn't have a cuddly, cuddly relationship with their children where they promised to something nice when they got out of clink, they were uptight emotionally frigid victorians. Apart from that, not bad. Special effects very good. ... More

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Posted by SiFiSi at 13:32, 04 June 2007 | Report This Post


... More

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Posted by Me100 at 16:25, 07 May 2007 | Report This Post


Chris Nolan's film from 2006 about rivarly between two Victorian magicians in London is one of the best written and well flowing films I have seen for sometime. It's intelligent use of narrative and editing mean that it takes a non-linear form, but instead cuts and dashes from various points in the two mens lives - building up really well for a finger nail biteing climax. Hugh Jackman steals the show as the engimatic and show-man Robert Angier, proving himself far worthier of previous roles. ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by ukedge87 at 10:34, 03 April 2007 | Report This Post


RE: The Prestige

L: matthewforan I just saw this for the first time and what a film. Bale and Jackson are perfect for the roles they play, with Nolan's direction and some of the best art direction of the year along with Pan's Labyrinth it is a stunning film that should be seen by everyone. 5 stars. sp; actually watched The Prestige 3 times now and it is a very very facinating film and I am  so glad you enjoyed it and we agree that Jackman and Bale were perfect in their roles and worked so wel... More

Posted by Anne Hedley at 00:21, 25 March 2007 | Report This Post


RE: The Prestige

I just saw this for the first time and what a film. Bale and Jackson are perfect for the roles they play, with Nolan's direction and some of the best art direction of the year along with Pan's Labyrinth it is a stunning film that should be seen by everyone. 5 stars. ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by matthewforan at 15:13, 23 March 2007 | Report This Post


RE: The Prestige

L: darth silas L: Lang I really enjoyed this film. I liked the way it played out. i  thought the Bale/Jackman pairing was outstanding. I liked seeing Jackman playing a more shady bad character a million miles away from that of Wolverine's hero but Christian Bale continues to impress with every performance, i look forward with great interest to his next film Rescue Dawn and of course a wee film called The Dark Knight. Christopher Nolan can do no worng in my opi... More

Posted by Anne Hedley at 19:06, 18 March 2007 | Report This Post


RE: The Prestige

ooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo ooook ... More

Posted by Lang at 00:32, 17 March 2007 | Report This Post


RE: The Prestige

L: Lang I really enjoyed this film. I liked the way it played out. i  thought the Bale/Jackman pairing was outstanding. I liked seeing Jackman playing a more shady bad character a million miles away from that of Wolverine's hero but Christian Bale continues to impress with every performance, i look forward with great interest to his next film Rescue Dawn and of course a wee film called The Dark Knight. Christopher Nolan can do no worng in my opinion.... a legend in... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by darth silas at 00:30, 17 March 2007 | Report This Post


RE: The Prestige

I really enjoyed this film. I liked the way it played out. i  thought the Bale/Jackman pairing was outstanding.   I liked seeing Jackman playing a more shady bad character a million miles away from that of Wolverine's hero   but   Christian Bale continues to impress with every performance, i look forward with great interest to his next film Rescue Dawn and of course a wee film called The Dark Knight.   Christopher Nolan can do no worng in my opinion.... ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by Lang at 00:27, 17 March 2007 | Report This Post


RE: The Prestige

i just watched this film for the first time on dvd.excellent all round and really worth watcing again if only just to disentangle the complex plot.hugh jackman proves here that hes not just good at playing razor clawed beserkers. ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by darth silas at 00:26, 17 March 2007 | Report This Post


RE: The Prestige

L: Paxton Pah. Cheap parlour tricks. Nolan doesn't have the nerve, wherewithall or wit to end this film as it ought to end, and the result serves only to highlight how poor his own "big reveal" is. Cop out. Everything leading up to the last 5 minutes is fairly spectacular, though. sp; ly we did not watch the same film or you were completely misdirected.    Christian Nolan and his brother's script was excellent taken from the Priestly book.&n... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by Anne Hedley at 23:34, 16 March 2007 | Report This Post


RE: Superb!

Finally caugth up with this on DVD. It's an enjoyable and intricately constructed film, featuring excellent performances by Bale, Jackman and Caine. By the end, however, there are too many implausibilities and contrivances in the plotting and the whole thing doesn't really hang together. In fact, like most magic illusions, the fun is in watching the act unfold, rather than in the 'reveal' which will probably leave the viewer rather dissatisfied. ... More

Posted by MOTH at 09:13, 16 March 2007 | Report This Post


Alakazaming Awesome

Fantastic film, this is what the film industry was made to do. Are you not entertained?! Hell yeah! ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by GandalfsHat at 09:11, 16 March 2007 | Report This Post


Alakazaming Awesome

Fantastic film, this is what the film industry was made to do. Are you not entertained?! Hell yeah! ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by GandalfsHat at 09:11, 16 March 2007 | Report This Post


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