NOLAN REVIEW: The Prestige

13 07 2010

After great critical and commercial success with “Batman Begins,” Nolan went back to the familiar territory of complex storylines and plot twists with “The Prestige.”

Whoever said cinema was magic was clearly foreseeing “The Prestige.”  Christopher Nolan uses his sorcery to conjure up a truly enchanting moviegoing experience, one that draws you in close at the beginning and keeps you gripped for the entire ride.  And it just so happens that the movie is about magic, so the comparison is perfect.

It’s all about the competition as Christian Bale and Hugh Jackman play rival magicians in early 1900s England, both of whom vie for the greatest success.  But they soon realize that the only way to come out on top is to eliminate the other, so their rivalry becomes dangerous as they work to destroy each other.  Stealing tricks as the only the beginning; they make decisions that affects life away from the stage as well, throwing friends and loved ones into the middle.

The beauty of the Nolans’ script (Christopher and brother Jonathan collaborated on the movie) is that it picks no favorite magician.  There is no set hero or villain, and Bale’s Borden does as many despicable deeds as Jackman’s Angier.  Thanks to their impartiality, we really just get to watch the events without worrying about the protagonist pulling through.

The movie’s slogan of “Are you watching closely?” is perfectly fitting as Nolan lures us in as if performing his own magic trick.  And indeed he is, following the traditional setup of a magic trick as Michael Caine’s John Cutter says at the beginning of the film.  The pledge, which in magic consists of showing us a normal object, is very much the film’s first act as we see the developing competition between the two magicians.  And just like the turn in magic, which makes the normal abnormal, the tension escalates.  We are looking for the reason, not wanting to be fooled by Nolan’s wizardry.

Sure enough, in the prestige, we get it.  In typical Nolan fashion, there’s a twist, and what we’ve been watching turns out to be something entirely different.  Yet we are willing to be fooled by a magician, and being fooled by Nolan’s “The Prestige” turns out to be quite thrilling in retrospect.