Caine and Bale make magic

Ally Melling

Hugh Jackman and Lord of the Rings Andy Serkis light up the screen in The Prestige. PHOTO COURTESY OF WARNER BROS. PICTURES

Credit: Jason Hall

Am I watching closely?

This is the question audience members must ask themselves while watching Christopher Nolan’s latest cinematic achievement, The Prestige.

Best known as director of the 2000-indie-hit Memento, Nolan retains actors Michael Caine and Christian Bale from his comic-to-film success Batman Begins and puts them to more “magical” use.

In The Prestige, Bale is Alfred rather than Batman, Alfred Borden, a rising magician in London during the crossover into the 20th century. His parallel is Rupert Angier (Hugh Jackman), a fellow conjurer who shares a tragic past with Alfred that heats an intense rivalry. As their feud grows, everyone around them becomes pulled into their world of obsession and deceit. Both desire to learn each other’s secrets and unravel the truths about the other’s “prestige,” which is the shocking finale of any magic trick.

Scarlett Johansson co-stars as a beautiful assistant who works her way from the bed and stage of one magician to the other. Michael Caine gives his usual caliber of performance as Cutter, a magician manager and gadget inventor who narrates areas of the story. David Bowie also makes a small appearance as the real-life scientist Nikola Tesla, whom Rupert seeks out to reconstruct the greatest magic trick of all time: “The transported man.”

Don’t be fooled by the concept of magic to think The Prestige is a happy, romantic adventure like September’s The Illusionist. While there are moments where love is displayed, it is tragically undermined by fate and the characters’ detached emotions. The Prestige is more a raw portrayal of the ruthless lengths man will go to for vengeance and jealously. Throughout the film, Alfred and Rupert outdo the other in harsher, dirtier ways until the audience doesn’t know who should triumph.

The real enchantment of The Prestige lies in its overall strength. The screenplay, co-written by Nolan with brother Jonathan Nolan, is clever and honest enough to avoid being entirely melodramatic. The cinematography and set design is visionary, sporting surreal images such as foggy, snow-covered, light bulb fields and skillfully capturing the mechanics of each magician’s prestidigitation.

Jackman and Bale convey the desperate craze of their characters as both find different sacrificial ways to fool the audience and destroy each other. Their intensity blends with the sincerity and support of Johansson and Caine. Television actress Rebecca Hall holds her own as Alfred’s emotionally tortured wife. Bowie’s brief performance as the mysterious Tesla adds a spooky, supernatural feel to a film centered mainly on mere slight-of-hand.

Though The Prestige is full of numerous plot twists, it is not hard to follow. Like Memento, the film flows with unusual time jumps and yields an ending that is shocking. The Prestige‘s own prestige is where the impact of the film smacks the audience in the face. The final payoff is haunting on a level similar to The Sixth Sense. In fact, a second viewing may be necessary to pick up on all things not realized before.

So, are you watching closely?

Contact ALL reporter Ally Melling at [email protected].

The Prestige

Directed by Christopher Nolan Rated PG-13 for violence and disturbing images

Starring Christian Bale, Hugh Jackman, Michael Caine, Scarlett Johansson, David Bowie

Distributed by Touchstone Pictures and Warner Bros. Pictures

Stater rating (out of five): ???? 1/2