Director Christopher Nolan may not win an Oscar for The Prestige, but he should get a medal, or at least a cookie.
Not since Hitchcock has a director been so good at holding out their films’ greatest secrets until the very end. Nolan’s 2000 hit Memento is a perfect example, slamming the audience with a sharp reality after spinning a web of mystery, in reverse. But even with such a great effort in showmanship under his belt, it appears that Mr. Nolan has not yet even begun to show us the whole of his limitless talents.
His latest effort, the afore mentioned Prestige, brings with it a few familiar faces. Christian Bale, who Nolan so splendidly chose to be Batman, plays a magician whose tricks border along the line of being a bit too real, a fact that creates a rivalry with another great magician, played by Hugh Jackman. The two begin as friends and partners, but after an accident on stage causes the death of Jackman’s wife they are thrown into one of the most aggressive and turbulent rivalries ever put on film. The two men ultimately spend the rest of their time trying to figure out the secrets of one another, leaving no stone unturned and no trap door unopened.
The movie begins with a profound line, Christian Bale in a voice over urging the audience to “watch closely.” For the audience, this is sound advice, watch closely and enjoy one of the best films of the year. Everything about this film reeks of Chris Nolan’s brilliance, and every ounce of it is there to draw the audience into this sensational story.
The acting isn’t bad either. Hugh Jackman has always being rather formulaic and Scarlett Johannson has been more of Hollywood’s centerpiece than the life of the party, but not here. They both work very well under the guidance of Chris Nolan, executing this dark and titillating story almost flawlessly, and when I say “almost flawlessly,” that means Scarlett’s pseudo British dialect only falls apart once. Christian Bale is his usual mix of deep emotion and explosiveness. The audience can really feel his mind at work, giving his character a unique amount of depth. All this aside, Michael Caine is the anchor, providing the air of wisdom and neutrality needed from a mentor-like character in a film like this. On a whole, the cast works very well, especially together.
The production values are top notch as well, the entire movie has an air about it that is, to say the least, magical. From the way the film is shot to the way that the story is pieced together, even though it moves back and forth between present and past a lot, everything works well in building suspense for the big twist.
And then when you reach the big twist, you are astonished. Not due to anything that is unbelievable, we should have seen it all coming if we were paying close attention, but due to the delivery of the twist. And what happens after the big twist? Another big twist. Then another. Then when you think that you’ve got it all figured out, that you can predict how this magician of a filmmaker is pulling off his tricks, you are hit with another final blow more powerful than anything that could have preceded it. Perhaps the greatest magic tricks are not played out by the actors on screen. The real magic of The Prestige is executed by its director, leading the audience down a path then mystifying them with something far beyond smoke and mirrors.