“The Prestige” has all the charm and guile of the brilliantly convoluted magic tricks that it portrays.
Unfortunately, it also suffers from the feeling of disappointment one gets after learning how a deviously cunning magic trick is performed.
The film stars Hugh Jackman as Rupert Angier and Christian Bale as Alfred Borden, two friends in turn-of-the-century London who aspire to be big-time magicians.
But the friendship between the two soon deteriorates after a botched magic trick results in a death (though I won’t say whose death, just so all the film’s secrets are preserved).
What follows is scene after scene of one-upmanship, as both Angier and Borden try to wreck each other’s life, all while attempting to outdo each other’s magic tricks.
As Angier, Jackman gives one of his best performances to date, creating a character who is a gregarious showman onstage but a deeply anguished and fervently obsessed shell of a man offstage.
Bale, too, is utterly compelling, attacking the role of Borden with his usual consummate skill. As Borden, Bale is almost frightening in how convincingly he portrays his character’s obsession and perfectionism.
The screenplay, by director Christopher Nolan and his brother Jonathan, also deserves kudos for its seductive skill in luring the audience into this world of magicians and magic tricks.
I admired the way that the story unfolded through flashbacks that defy any sort of logical chronology, and yet I never once felt lost or overwhelmed by the structure of the story.
The cleverness of the script alone is enough by itself to recommend “The Prestige” to any movie lover who enjoys the thrill of a labyrinthine mystery to which there seems to be no solution.
But the film is not without its flaws. Scarlett Johansson, who plays Grace, an assistant whose loyalties shift between Angier and Borden, makes an impression whenever she is onscreen, but her character is woefully underused and underdeveloped. It is only by Johansson’s natural beauty and allure that we remember Grace at all.
My biggest problem with “The Prestige,” however, has to do with its third act, when all the characters’ secrets are revealed with such speed as to make the viewer feel dizzy.
I have only seen the film once and so I do not know if Nolan made it impossible for the audience to anticipate the ending, but I have a sneaking suspicion that, like Nolan’s masterpiece “Memento,” all the clues are there and you just have to know where to look.
Nevertheless, I still think I would have been happier with the film if most of its secrets remained shrouded in mystery, and I had walked out of the theater zealously wondering to myself how they pulled it off.
Staff writer Jeff Schwartz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. The opinions expressed in this column reflect the views of the individual author and not necessarily those of the Collegian.