Reviewed by

Christopher Armstead

I think I’m heading down to the local library to read Christopher Pierces novel ‘The Prestige’, even though books tend to shame movie versions due greater interactivity for the reader, as opposed to watching a movie, and also an author injects far greater detail into their the pages than a film can inject in it’s two or so hours.  The reason I’m going to read the novel is that there are a lot of open ended issues that were left unresolved in director Christopher Nolan’s film version of the ‘The Prestige’ which is an entertaining if somewhat uneven film of warring Victorian era magicians.

Rupert (Hugh Jackman) and Alfred (Christian Bale) are buddies and fledgling magicians studying under Milton (Ricky Jay).  When a particular trick goes horribly, terribly, tragically wrong, Rupert and Alfred become bitter enemies to the death.   Both men have their plusses and minuses as performers.  Alfred is the more inventive magician, but has the presentation savvyof a freshman Economics instructor.  Rupert is a helluva showman, but pedestrian as a magician at best.  Soon the men begin a process of virtually destroying each other and their careers in which sometimes had you wondering why they couldn’t see it coming.

Alfred comes up with the trick of tricks; the transporter man, where he bounces a ball from one side of the stage disappears into a door and magically reappears on the side out of a door to catch the ball.  Rupert decides that he has to have this trick for his own and devises numerous schemes and trickery bordering past the obsessive to get it.  His mentor Cutter (Michael Cane) tells him he knows how he does the trick, but Rupert won’t stop until he has it, even sending his lover / assistant Olivia (Scarlet Johannason) to steal the secret for him.

All of this trickeration, sleight of hand and one upmanship is very entertaining and Jackman and Bale make perfect foils, one as the suave showman, the other as the dirty hands workingman.  A few problems creep up in the narrative however.  Neither character is endearing in the least, so there is no rooting interest in either one of these vindictive shlubs.  At the end there’s a big ‘twist’, but I suspect you’ll be figure it out at least halfway through.  One of the characters even tells you what the twist is about at the three-quarter mark if you haven’t figured it out on your own.

A different film from ‘The Illusionist’, another Victorian era film centered around a magician, ‘The Prestige’ is more entertaining to me, but not as good a film overall, if that makes any kind of sense.  The Illusionist had a more concise, clearer story, also based on literature, but a short story, so what ever author Stephen Millhouse put into ‘The Illusionist’ stayed in, where as I’m fairly certain large chunks of ‘The Prestige’ were left on the page leaving what feels like gaping holes in the narrative.

Another area the film excelled in was atmosphere and mood.  The recreation of turn of the century London just felt authentic.  Of course anybody who was hanging around London around 1899 is pretty much dead now, but still, it felt real to me.  Nonetheless, despite some serious holes in the plot and some rather suspect character motivation, I’d expound more on it, but that would put us in spoiler territory, ‘The Prestige’ is a pretty good time at show.

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