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THE PRESTIGE

Review by Gordon Justesen

Stars: Hugh Jackman, Christian Bale, Michael Caine, Scarlett Johansson, Rebecca Hall, Andy Serkis, David Bowie
Director: Christopher Nolan
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1, French Dolby Stereo, Spanish Dolby Stereo
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 2.35:1
Studio: Touchstone
Features: See Review
Length: 130 Minutes
Release Date: February 20, 2007

“Are you watching closely?”

Film ****

There are certain filmmakers who I admire so much that when their latest project is announced, you can’t help but anticipate its release. Christopher Nolan is very much one of those filmmakers. He delivers such an original vision and style to his films that no other director can pull off or even dare to imitate. If anything, Nolan is a pure gift to the cinematic world.

After delivering possibly the best comic book film to ever hit the silver screen, Batman Begins, Nolan has surfaced back the thriller genre with the dynamic magician thriller, The Prestige. Nolan has done wonders for suspense films, having pretty much re-invented it with the masterpiece Memento and executing a terrific remake of Insomnia. Now he, along with screenwriter and brother Jonathan Nolan, weaves an ingenious tale of magic that is nothing short of amazing.

The story tells of two magicians named Robert Angier (Hugh Jackman) and Alfred Borden (Christian Bale). The film is told through pure Nolan narrative, meaning that things aren’t exactly revealed chronologically. When the film opens, it’s clear that the two are bitter rivals looking to outdo each other’s act on both a personal and professional level.

But as the story unfolds, we learn that in the beginning that Angier and Borden were at one point best friends and shared a stage routine alongside Angier’s wife, Julia (Piper Perabo). Both men have been properly trained by Cutter (Michael Caine), an expert trick designer. During this point, Angier and Borden are struggling to come up with new and inventive magic tricks to put their conventional competition to shame.

But during one stage performance, something goes horribly wrong, and Julia who is the guinea pig in the magic trick, dies. Angier blames her death on Borden since he can’t seem to be clear about how he went about setting her up for the trick performance. From this point on, the two become bitter rivals and engage in an ongoing attempt to outwit each other professionally, though it ends up taking a big toll on their personal lives as well.

Both men do encounter romance along the way. Angier falls in love with his new stage assistant, Olivia (Scarlett Johansson). Borden, meanwhile, meets Sarah (Rebecca Hall), whom he later marries and starts a family with. But soon enough, their personal egos soon find a way to damage all of that.

Their rivalry reaches a crucial point when Angier witnesses Borden perform the greatest magic trick he’s ever seen. He wants to get information on how he pulled this stage act off. And to do this, he orders Olivia to spy on Borden for him, which offends her as a result. Eventually, Borden is enjoying a fling with Olivia while pushing wife Sarah to the emotional breaking point.

And Angier’s plans to outwit Borden lead to a chance meeting with scientist Nikola Tesla (David Bowie). Tesla holds the key to the very device that could very much put Angier one step ahead in the competition. But how far will this battle of trickery go on and who will come out on top? Trust me…you won’t know until the final frame.

The Prestige definitely shows Nolan returning to some Memento-style roots in terms of narrative. No, the film isn’t told backwards, but Nolan does do a wondrous job of slightly jumbling up the order of events, savoring key flashback scenes for when they’re needed most so they effect can be much more jolting. Through this style, Nolan’s method of storytelling is a thing of beauty.

And the performances are magnificent every step of the way. Jackman, who had a very busy year in 2006, gives one of his most intense performances to date as the fiercely competitive Angier, and with a touch a subtlety no less. And Bale, right off the heels of working with Nolan on Batman Begins, is a marvel to watch as the near-diabolical Borden. And the supporting cast is serviced well by Michael Caine as the intelligent instructor of the two and Scarlett Johansson (my top crush of all movie starlets) as the woman caught in the middle of the act.

The Prestige can be best described as a cinematic magic trick. As it unfolds, you find yourself becoming more and more fooled, only to have your jaw hit the floor by the sight of something you couldn’t possibly have seen coming. It’s another stunning and atmospheric piece from Christopher Nolan, who has really delivered film magic with this one!

Video ****

Here we have a candidate for the Best Video Performance of the year. Every Christopher Nolan movie delivers on the visuals, and this is great example. The anamorphic presentation courtesy of Touchstone is thoroughly sharp and clear, be it light or dark tones (the movie has equal does of both). Colors are amazing and vibrant all the way through. I am not fooling you when I say your eyes will be awestruck by what you see in this wonderful presentation.

Audio ****

By now, if you’ve seen Nolan’s earlier work, you already know that sound is a key part in the effect of his films. The 5.1 mix stuns and amazes with a brilliant and sharp sound mix the shines even in the subtlest of moments. The stage performances provide awesome sounding moments and David Julyan’s music score is delivered beautifully. Excellent dialogue delivery as well. A showstopper, indeed!

Features ***

Some nice behind the scenes material on this release, including six featurettes; “Backstage - The Director's Notebook: The Cinematic Sleight Of Hand Of Christopher Nolan”, “Conjuring The Past”, “The Visual Maze”, “Metaphors Of Deception”, “Tesla: The Man Who Invented The Twentieth Century” and “Resonances”. Also featured as a lengthy photo gallery titled “The Art of The Prestige Gallery”.

This disc also includes one of the coolest menus you’ll ever see!

Summary:

The Prestige continues Christopher Nolan’s fantastic streak as one of the most gifted and original filmmakers of our time. This film, like its lead characters, knows how to trick an audience when we least expect it! Prepared to be marveled!

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