***1/2 (out of 5)
October 20, 2006
Hugh Jackman as ROBERT ANGIER
Christian Bale as ALFRED BORDEN
Michael Caine as CUTTER
Piper Perabo as JULIA MCCULLOUGH
Rebecca Hall as SARAH
Scarlett Johansson as OLIVIA WENSCOMB
David Bowie as NIKOLA TESLA
Directed by: Christopher Nolan
BY KEVIN CARR
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Here we are at the end of October, and sandwiched between a mess of horror sequels and prequels comes a week that doesn’t really have a new horror film releasing at all. In some way, this might make the weekend one of the better release dates out there, as the film studios aren’t pandering to a teenage audience for once in their lives.
Leading the pack is Christopher Nolan’s latest flick, “The Prestige.” After turning independent film on its ear with his masterpiece “Memento,” Nolan took a stab at a popular comic book franchise. With some help from a mostly excellent cast, Nolan helped resurrect the Batman series from the doldrums that Joel Schumacher created almost a decade before.
Now, Nolan teams up again with some of those cast members. This time, instead of playing the Dark Knight, Christian Bale plays Alfred Borden, a struggling magician in London during the turn of the century. Michael Caine comes in to play his mentor again, a genius inventor named Cutter who develops some of the best tricks around.
Also added to the mix is Hugh Jackman as Robert Angier, a rival magician who has an axe to grind with Borden because a magical mishap caused the death of his wife. Over the years, they become adversaries, sometimes lashing out at each other violently. Ultimately, Angier becomes obsessed with Borden and a fresh trick that he is determined to duplicate.
Because of the success of “Batman Begins” – and the thought of the new on-screen Batman going head-to-head with Wolverine – “The Prestige” has become one of the most highly anticipated films of the season. For the most part, it lives up to that hype. Much of this is due to Nolan’s deft directing style, but not a small portion of the credit goes to Bale, who commits fully to the part. After some excellent showings in films like “The Machinist” and “Batman Begins,” it’s clear that Bale is one of the most underrated actors of his generation.
As you might expect with any film from Christopher Nolan, “The Prestige” has plenty of twists and turns. The plot is somewhat complicated, and only a little bit predictable. However, like any good magic trick, even if you know the outcome, it’s fun to watch the process.
Following the release of this summer’s “The Illusionist,” “The Prestige” becomes the second major magician flick out there. Normally this leads to at least one of the films being a stinker, but in this rare case, both films stand up nicely. Aside from being period magician pieces, they only have a few similarities, and an audience member can enjoy each one equally.
The technical elements of filmmaking are done exceedingly well in this movie. The production design is stark and creepy, and the cinematography captures the eeriness of the story very well. The film is dark and brooding, but not too much that it becomes unwatchable.
The rest of the cast fits the bill well, especially a chameleon-like performance by David Bowie as the mysterious electrical pioneer Nikola Tesla. The only weak link in the cast is the overexposed starlet-of-the-year Scarlett Johansson. Like Katie Holmes in Nolan’s “Batman Begins,” Johansson proves once again to the movie-going public that she really isn’t anything more than a pretty face.
With a morass of crummy horror flicks out in the multiplexes this year, “The Prestige” gives a nice alternative to the people. It’s a fully mainstream film for Nolan, but still done with the care of a smaller, more independent work of passion.