Is there a secret you would kill to know? In this electrifying, suspense-packed thriller from director Christopher Nolan (Batman Begins, Memento), Hugh Jackman and Christian Bale play magicians whose cutthroat attempts to better each other plunge them into deadly deceptions. Scarlett Johansson also stars as the stage assistant who's both a pawn and player in their rivalry. A brilliant supporting cast (including Michael Caine and David Bowie). An ingenious story. An astonishing payoff. Once you see The Prestige, you'll want to see it again. Watch closely.
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Magic- a curious art, and one that has baffled man for innumerable years. It is a craft honed for the stage, drawing from all corners of the earth to conjure illusions that seemingly stretch the limits of nature and to transform the performer into something far greater than an entertainer in a wink of the eye and a flick of the wrist. Immemorial, hoary sleight of hand becomes witchcraft, cards and coins become pawns in the workings of sorcery and the impossible becomes possible in the hands of the right man. We may say that we search for the workings behind the illusion, that we yearn for the truth behind the façade of lies, but we have never wanted to know, not truly- to do so would be to defile and destroy the art. Or, at least, that is the theory presented in The Prestige, the older, grittier brother of the more crowd-pleasing award winner The Illusionist. Whilst the latter was out enchanting families with is stories of love and fairytale endings, The Prestige concerned itself with loss and sacrifice, detailing the tragic self-destruction of two rival stage magicians and their deadly game of one-upmanship. This plot, filled with innumerable twists and turns, is both the film’s best feature and most prominent weakness- while it’s double-crossings and deceits mark it as undoubtedly one of the most intelligent and pacey thrillers of the past decade, it also makes one wonder if the whole affair ends up being too clever for its own good- I lost track of who was who and so on more than once along the way. But maybe that’s the point- in a world of shady deeds and dismal downfalls, the journey of our protagonists seems like one big illusion, and its wild goose chases and red herrings allow us to never completely see through it. Visually, it’s faultless- the action takes place against either the gloomy, brooding alleyways and theatres of Victorian London or the lavish, funereal winter vistas of America, and sets the scene perfectly for the grim story. However, it’s Michael Caine doing what he does best who steals every scene seemingly effortlessly, putting in a confident and distinctive performance as Cutter, the assistant of the power-hungry Great D’Anton, fleeting between administering sagely advice to complete bewilderment with ease. It’s a pity, then, that the script effectively wastes the talents of major stars such as Hugh Jackman and Christian Bale by, in casting them as the warring magicians around which the story revolves, making the pair completely detestable by the end and eliminating the possibility of the audience relating to either. The Great D’Anton is remarkably cruel, embittered by the accidental death of his wife while rival Alfred Borden is insufferably piggish, his east London drawl and mocking smile grinding throughout. However, a moody setting and satisfyingly unnerving tone makes up for The Prestige’s shortcomings, and with a neat little story that’ll keep you thinking long after the movie’s finished, it is not only a must have for thriller fans, but it remains an intriguing exploration of venomous desires and jealousies. And, like any good magic trick, you’ll want to see it again and again- and it pays to be watching closely. Well worth the fiver it’ll cost you.
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