The Prestige

Year 2006


Hugh Jackman as  Robert Angier
Christian Bale as Alfred Borden
Michael Caine as John Cutter
David Bowie as   Nikola Tesla
Scarlett Johansson   as   Olivia Wenscombe  
Director - Christopher Nolan
Screenwriters - Jonathan Nolan
  - Christopher Nolan  
Novelist - Christopher Priest

Special effects fetishist Christopher Nolan seems to have found the correct medium for his outlet. The Prestige is a story about two Victorian Era stage magicians who exist to sabotage each other. So, there are tricks, illusions, and sleight of hand on display. Many of the tricks are of the old standy-by variety. There's Houdini's escape from a tank of water trick, the disappearing/reappearing bird trick, and the catch the bullet in mid-air sleight of hand. The secrets of all are revealed to the viewer.

Robert Angier (Jackman) and Alfred Borden (Bale) are up and coming magicians when Borden convinces Angier's wife and assistant to substitute an old prop for a new one. This change results in the death of the woman. The two men part ways, and Angier opportunistically attempts to ruin Borden. Borden, although willing to let the past fade into history, nevertheless retailiates when Angier scores a trick against him. (Magicians? Trick? Nevermind...)

Angier, despite his need for justice against the man complicit in his wife's death, does nothing clever in his quest for vengeance. Oh, he'll pretend to be a member of Borden's audience and then sabotage the performance. He'll even stoop to stealing Borden's tricks, the blackguard. Considering that these are two feuding stage magicians, you'd think that a little razzle dazzle flamboyance might be part of a strategy. Don't expect it because you won't get it.

If the magicians feel as though they need to act, then they do. Otherwise, they're slackers. This movie could have been called, Clerks with CGI.

You want to feel sorry for Algier. The man just lost his wife. But he has no emotion other than anger. Oh, eventually he takes up with Olivia Wenscombe (Johansson) but, if anything, that takes him even further into the realm of Deserves No Sympathy. (Scarlett Johansson tweets things like, "They should all die," and her acting ability is only slightly better than that of Tom Greene. What happened to the days of movie stars being just that and not polical buffoons? Johansson is definitely not equipped to offer an opinion on anything political but her need to deliver blather affects my perception of her in movies. But even if I try and evaluate her objectively, I still come to the conclusion that she's weak as an actress.)

Piper Perabo, who plays Angier's feyed wife, should've played the part of Wenscombe and Johansson should have had an early exit from the movie. Perabo is less known and therefore potentially much more sympathetic.

And so we come to root my problem with the movie. Who cares about the characters? Oh, when Borden is in jail on a murder charge, you feel for his daughter. But Borden? Only slightly. Angier? Nope. Borden's wife? Blah. Wenscombe? Furniture. Tesla (Bowie)? Interesting, but you just don't care.

There's no back story to any of these people except within the events of the movie. There's no sense of passion. There's no sense of immersion in the time period. It's a lot of fluff. A lot more depth would have been added if any of the love stories would have been a bit deeper. Charcters come, are used, and then they go.

It is entertaining fluff. The better part of the movie deals with a trick called "The Transported Man". To quote Firesign Theater, "How can you be in two places at once when you're nowhere at all?"

There are a number of details that keep this movie interesting. I read a review where someone called the movie "epic". That reviewer doesn't understand the meaning of the word epic. (And Christopher Nolan doesn't understand the meaning of many English words like "symbolism", so avoid the interview extras if you think Nolan might be erudite. That way, you won't be disappointed.)

A side note. Whenever I come across the word "epic" I'm reminded of Bogey in the movie In a Lonely Place. He comments on the word.

Little things to appreciate in The Prestige include the way the disappearing/reappearing bird trick is a nicely caged (Bird? Caged? Nevermind...) hint as to the final revelation. So is the use of Edison's thugs on Tesla. Or Borden's ingénieur. He's obviously someone in lousy make-up. But who? You are never given a chance to puzzle that one out.

David Bowie as Tesla? He looks a bit like Tesla. Does he talk like him? I don't know. What's a Serbian accent sound like? But again there's no back story to establish Tesla as someone that Algier needs to appeal to. Suppossedly, Borden used Tesla for his version of the Transported Man trick. That's according to what Tesla's assistant Igor, uh Alley (Andy Serkis) tells Angier. But what Tesla actually did for Borden is never explained. In fact, later on in the movie, it's stated that Tesla did nothing for Borden. Then what was Alley prattling on about?

Quick facts! Tesla thought that copper could be transmuted to gold. He didn't believe in atomic structure. The A-Bomb was an impossibility to him. This belief should have been used. (Not the A-Bomb, but Tesla's refusal to accept atomic theory.) It might have added a bit of credibility to the character's invention.

As it is, the viewer is asked to believe, without foundation, that Tesla created a matter duplicator. Out of thin air! (Transporter? Thin air? Nevermind...)

For the most part, the movie is well done. The acting is fairly good. No one really shines, though. The ending? Borden's trick is hard to believe, but it's at least credible. Angier's secret? What planet is this? They should've mentioned Tesla's disintegrator ray, too. And that's why this movie is barely not shabby.

Interstesting, imaginative, and never boring but with unlikable characters, unbelievable plot twists, and weak acting. It's the stuff of which popcorn is made.

There's no nudity. There's profanity and blasphemy. There's some chick flick potential because it's not all macho and stuff.

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