Bottom Line: Ironically, The Prestige is Nolan’s least “prestigious” work.
Directed by: Christopher Nolan
Starring: Andy Serkis, Christian Bale, Daniel Davis, David Bowie, Hugh Jackman, Michael Caine, Piper Perabo, Rebecca Hall, Samantha Mahurin, Scarlett Johansson
Certain films can by no means turned off, no matter how long they take to warrant your fullest attention. The Prestige is a prime example: in the simplest of terms, we often get an odd feeling that we’re watching an arthouse picture, presenting a narrative purely extensive on a recent BBC docudrama. It does feel uncomfortably strange to say something like that about something, ANYTHING with the name “Christopher Nolan” pierced across it. Christopher has written–sometimes alongside his brother Jonathan–and directed some of the most fascinating motion pictures in recent memory: Inception, Memento, and The Dark Knight, to name a few. And Nolan does present a mesmerizing (and in this case, particularly amusing) intrigue along the lines of those masterpieces. He also assembles a spectacular cast, in which even David Bowie delivers well. But no matter how much more “prestige” and original embellishments flourish through this 130-minute period mystery, it’s a struggle trying to push past the uneventful, seemingly repetitive narrative.
It’s a wonder how The Prestige ever thinned out so much, especially as an adaptation of a 400-page novel. Two magicians, rivaling near the end of the nineteenth century, are both out to create the best illusion onstage. These two leads and the tales surrounding them try to compensate for a one-note opening act, and meet halfway, at best. Only when the story finds a darker route does it suddenly find a loophole to evade any more bored of an audience. This is also when Nolan’s cinematic makeup takes action. Although this kind of magic show would deprive most young children of sleep, the disturbing obsessions the characters undergo, affecting their personal lives, are a bit of a treat for an audience who may appreciate the surprising twist. By the third act, however, all the clever spark is suddenly dead. Worse, we feel cheated: all the character development that seemed magnificent in the first act, now has proved a major fluke and made for only a predictable conclusion. We’ve never gotten this much of a disappointment from Nolan. How ironic that the one film he has made about magic, is the least magical picture he has made yet. Again, there is the usual addition to the “Nolanventory”, the kind of thing that would be a gimmick in the hands of any other director. But no great magic show can traverse for two hours and ten minutes without a significant amount of additional chutzpah…the great “cadabra” that would instantaneously complete this “abra”.