One illusion that fails to impress

The Prestige

on October 20, 2006 by Shlomo Schwartzberg
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In turn-of-the-century London, two brilliant magicians face off in a rivalry that quickly turns ugly, dangerous and, finally, murderous. Christopher Nolan's The Prestige revisits some of the same themes -- questioning appearances, reality and perceptions -- as the director's previous Memento but with less satisfying results. Christian Bale plays Alfred Borden, a talented but mercurial sort who finds himself competing with Robert Angier (Hugh Jackman). Angier is a flashier magician who harbors a deep-seated jealousy of Borden, who has acquired the family life Angier feels he has been denied. That Borden has had something to do with the tragedy that has befallen Angier is only one reason that the two men begin to constantly one-up each other throughout London even as their magic tricks became more clever and perilous.

Nolan, who wrote the screenplay with his brother Jonathan, from a novel by acclaimed British writer Christopher Priest, obviously knows his way around sleight-of-hand and tricky plot twists. But The Prestige is heavy-handed to a fault, lugubriously laying out its complicated plot and loading it up with flashbacks, secondary storylines and even some social commentary, personified by the appearance of famed inventor/engineer Nikola Tesla (an adequate David Bowie), who had his own skirmishes with an envious Thomas Edison.

Admittedly, Bale as the conflicted Borden is superb, and Michael Caine is fine as Cutter, an older magician who is privy to both men's secrets. But their compelling performances only highlight the movie's general weaknesses, from Jackman's dull take on Angier to the waste of Scarlett Johansson, in a thin part as a woman who becomes entangled with the rival magicians, to the manipulative feeling that Nolan's direction engenders. The film's final, “shocking” revelation isn't half as imaginative as any part of Memento was. It's also a cheat, contradicting too much of what has gone on before. As magic tricks go, there is much less here than meets the eye. Distributor: Buena Vista
Cast: Hugh Jackman, Christian Bale, Michael Caine, Rebecca Hall, Scarlett Johansson and David Bowie
Director: Christopher Nolan
Screenwriters: Jonathan Nolan and Christopher Nolan
Producers: Emma Thomas, Aaron Ryder and Christopher Nolan
Genre: Fantasy drama
Rating: PG-13 for violence and disturbing images
Running time: 130 min.
Release Date: October 20

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