There are three parts to any magic trick: the pledge, where the trick is set up, the turn, where the trick is put into practice, and the prestige, the grand reveal, the essential way to finish it with a flourish. In turn of the century, late Victorian London, there had been a grand rivalry between two stage magicians, Robert Angier (Hugh Jackman) and Alfred Borden (Christian Bale) which had been brought to a head when Borden ventured under the stage as Angier was performing his electrical vanishing act. However, Angier had fallen through a trapdoor into a tank of water and drowned in front of a horrified Borden - now he was up on a murder charge...
The Prestige was based on the novel by Christopher Priest, adapted by director Christopher Nolan and his brother Jonathan Nolan, who wrote the short story Memento had been based on. Similarly, there is not necessarily in the right order editing going on here as we are sent back and forth between the present, where Borden is awaiting the outcome of his trial, and the past, where we discover what drew these two men to loathe each other so strongly. It was all over a woman, and the romantic adventures of these two only cause more headaches for them as the film progresses.
The first romantic interest is Angier's wife, magician's assistant Julia (Piper Perabo), who was tragically killed when a water tank trick went horribly wrong. Both Angier and Borden were the stooges who were meant to help out, but Angier became convinced that Borden had deliberately tied the wrong knot around Julia thereby leading to her drowning. Indeed, Jackman makes his character the more sympathetic despite the despicable things we see both men get up to, and whether you think he had a point, or a better motive at any rate, is up to whose side you wish to land on.
Needless to say, there's no love lost between the magicians, but if they would only set aside their differences they'd see they could become a winning team, one of many ironies in the tale. Borden has the great ideas and Angier the keen sense of showmanship, but when Borden comes up with an incredible illusion - exiting the stage through one door and entering through another immediately after - Angier must know how he does it, recognising that despite the dowdy presentation here is a killer set-up. His ideas man, Cutter (Michael Caine), can only see how it's done with use of a double, and that's how Angier ends up doing it in a moneyspinning show, but Borden sows the seeds of mutiny in Angier's stooge. Well, he did have two fingers shot off by his rival, so he has a grudge to settle.
It doesn't stop there, as Angier's assistant and lover, Olivia (Scarlett Johansson), defects to Borden's side when he asks her to spy for him, and so it goes on. All the way through you're expecting a clever reveal to explain how all this is done, and there's a true classiness to the production that doesn't lead you to recognise the letdown of the finale until it's too late. Added into the mix is that cult figure of fringe science Nikola Tesla, here played by David Bowie with otherworldy grace, who as offered up here is as much a magician with his electric marvels as the others are, but his input is tantamount to explaining that David Copperfield pulls off his illusions by dint of the fact that he's a space alien. It's a real pity, as up until the last ten minutes The Prestige casts an absorbing spell only to stumble badly in the home stretch, rendering what we've seen ridiculous and hard to swallow. Music by David Julyan.
British director specialising in dark thrillers. Made an impressive debut with the low-budget Following, but it was the time-twisting noir Memento that brought him to Hollywood's attention. 2002's Al Pacino-starrer Insomnia was a remake of a Norwegian thriller, while Batman Begins was one of 2005's biggest summer movies. The hits kept coming with magician tale The Prestige, and Batman sequel The Dark Knight was the most successful movie of Nolan's career, which he followed with ambitious sci-fi Inception and the final entry of his Batman trilogy The Dark Knight Rises. He then attempted to go as far as he could with sci-fi epic Interstellar, another huge success at the box office, which was followed by his World War II blockbuster Dunkirk.