Two friends and fellow magicians become bitter enemies after an unexpected tragedy. As they commit themselves to this rivalry, they make sacrifices that bring them fame but with terrible consequences.
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An ultimate masterpiece directed by Christopher Nolan filled with classic magic, science, suspense, twists and turns. The film emerges out of a hearty friendship and travels through the journey of revenge and envy. Stuffed with hard-working actors, sleek effects and stagy period details, is an intricate and elaborate machine designed for the simple purpose of diversion.
“The Prestige” begins with a death and proceeds through a murder trial and its aftermath, using flashbacks within flashbacks to deepen the mystery it promises to solve and changing points of view to misdirect the viewers attention. At the center are two ambitious young magicians, Robert Angier (Hugh Jackman) and Alfred Borden (Christian Bale), also known as the Professor. They start out as friends and fellow probationers, but quickly become bitter personal and professional rivals. Their enmity stems from an accidental onstage killing, and before long it is hard for them to remove the desire for revenge from the impulse toward one-upmanship.
Angier and Borden perform competing versions of the same tricks in different theaters and show up at each other’s performances in disguise, sometimes to steal secrets, sometimes to sabotage tricks and cause public embarrassment.
Their employer is, in fact, the celebrated real-life illusionist Ricky Jay, a regular collaborator of David Mamet, a writer fascinated by confidence trickery. The woman in the act is Angier’s wife. In a voice-over commentary, John Cutter (Michael Caine), an elderly deviser of magic equipment and a respectful, very knowing artisan among artists, explains that a magic performance evolves in three stages. The first is ‘the Pledge’, wherein we’re shown something; the second, ‘the Turn’, centres on a disappearance; in the climactic third part, ‘the Prestige’ (a term deriving from prestidigitation, but also implying respect and admiration), a person or object is miraculously brought back, leaving the audience stunned and delighted.
This sequence of events informs the structure of the film as well as the tricks, the most noteworthy of which is known as ‘the Transported Man’. Angier and Borden come to have different, competing versions of this legendary trick. The two men begin as friends, then, when an act goes lethally wrong, they become rivals and increasingly deadly enemies.The movie beautifully creates the world of stage illusion and the workshops in which the tricks are created, as well as looking at the ethos, the ethics and the ambitions of the performers.
Angier is a second-rate magician, but a brilliant showman; Borden is a magician of genius mindset, but poor at presenting himself. Their relationship in some ways resembles that between Salieri and Mozart in Amadeus. The rivalry drives both men towards acts of madness and the film asks what it is that produces this urge to deceive and to puzzle, and why the public delights in being manipulated, fooled and astonished.
During this sojourn (stay) in the States, Angier reads Borden’s encrypted diary and secret notebook, which he had stoled, but the purpose of his journey is to see the fabulous maverick scientist Nicolai Tesla (1856-1943), the movie’s only real-life character, inventor of alternating current and radio. In the film’s scheme of things, Tesla is working in an isolated laboratory on scientific projects that go beyond the ken of his former employer, Thomas Edison.
The film is flawlessly assembled with magnificently stylised sets by production designer Nathan Crowley, acute editing by Lee Smith and wonderfully atmospheric but wholly unaffected photography by Wally Pfister. They’ve all previously collaborated with Nolan, in Pfister’s case on all his pictures since Following, which Nolan himself photographed.
The performances of Bale and Jackman complement each other superbly and Caine brings a seriousness and dignity to Cutter, a role that combines the best aspects of his theatrical agent in Little Voice and his butler in Batman Begins. As in earlier Nolan films, the women’s roles are unrewarding, though Rebecca Hall and Scarlett Johansson do well enough as Borden’s naive wife and Angier’s duplicitous stage assistant.