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Review: The Prestige

Published October 18, 2006 in Movie Reviews
By Fred Topel | Image property of Touchstone Pictures.
The Prestige The Prestige
It will be easy to spot the tricks in The Prestige as even thrillers about non-magicians use the same contrivances. But even though the effective misdirection you’re hoping for never comes, it’s still a fun ride through the world of 19th century magic.

The Prestige Review


The film opens with Robert Angier (Hugh Jackman) performing a disappearing act and ending up locked in a water tank. Alfred Borden (Christian Bale) discovers the drowned Angier and goes on trial for his murder. Through flashbacks, we learn how the duo began as assistants together but split up after Borden’s difficult knot led to Angier’s wife’s death.

As competitors, Borden flourishes with his dangerous tricks while Angier obsesses over destroying Borden with bigger and better performances. Of course, obsession causes both men to lose touch with families or any semblance of healthy lives.

From the description alone you should be able to predict where this familiar structure will lead. But even though the film doesn’t reinvent the wheel, it’s a new playground in which to work out. The Prestige is as seductive as its magic tricks, leaving you wanting more.

Simply going inside the backstage dealings of the magic world is worth watching. The Illusionist made you wait until the end to find out what was going on. The Prestige takes us from disappearing birds to teleportation.



Even more interesting are the politics of the magic circles. There are traitors and loyals who violate or uphold codes of ethics that only apply to the world of selling illusions to mass audiences.

On top of that, any story about two professionals sabotaging each other is fun. The Prestige is a good escalating battle of wits. Obsessives are compelling. They’re usually right about their obsession, devoted and clever. We don’t have to live with their social dysfunction. We just watch the cool parts.

Jackman and Bale both own the screen. That would make them co-owners, I guess. Bale’s cockney mumble is tough and Jackman’s showmanship is even more compelling after we know the trick. Character-wise, the more sinister Borden is actually more compelling because Angier is just desperate. Sometimes you’ve just got to let the better man win, but then there wouldn’t be a movie.

Scarlett Johansson is in so little of the movie it’s surprising she’s in the trailer. Michael Caine is significant and brings an authority to any scene that may seem like a stretch of the imagination.

Perhaps the whole thing really was an ultimate trick. By making us expect some extravagant twist, we were totally surprised to see the usual twist from these kinds of movies. Ah-ha, it worked!

Stay tuned for updates.


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Fred Topel
Sources: Image property of Touchstone Pictures.
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