Director Christopher Nolan (Batman Begins, Memento), takes the viewer into the minds of two rivaling practitioners of the illusionary arts, Robert Angier (played by Hugh Jackman), and the other the darker, Alfred Borden (played by Christian Bale). Throw also into the mix an aged Cutter, played by Michael Caine who creates the machinery to give the illusions “life”, and you initially have all the makings of what Caine remarks as the three acts of magic show: The Pledge, The Turn, and The Prestige.
Now, The Pledge- where the magician will show you the ordinary, next is The Turn- where the ordinary becomes the spectacular, and while you’re wondering how it was pulled off, the third final act enters and is entitled, The Prestige- where true amazement of the practitioner’s skill and something utterly shocking is to be witnessed, this third act will completely envelop an awe struck spectator.
What actually develops within turn of the century London with our rivals is the birth of obsession- obsession of their art and the obsession to possess what the other has: be it a happy family life (as Alfred Borden cheated Angier out of having, after the unfortunate demise of Angier’s wife during The Turn) and/or each others’ trade secrets (cleverly coded to prevent such pilfering to occur). Both magicians’ dire efforts to continually out do each other in either technique or showmanship gets lost in the shuffle as we attempt to ascertain who is duping who.
With all the showmanship, production value and the initial hype, despite the outstanding performances by Caine, Jackman, Bale, and David Bowie (as Nikola Tesla, who also shared Angier’s trait of obsessive behavior in his pursuit of the extraordinary), the film falls short to really surprise you with something extraordinary.
The film does has several excellent moments with some twists and turns, however, the payoff is easily discovered not at the end of the film but towards the end where the climax wasn’t the punch that was needed to make the audiences say, “wow”. It just makes audiences who once they have discovered how the turn was executed within the film, want more and become thoroughly disappointed (yours truly included) that there isn’t any more.
AUDIENCE REACTIONS: confusion, remarks after the film has concluded stemmed from, “why did he do this…” to “how could he have not known…”
Nolan who co-wrote the screenplay with his brother, Johnathan does well to create the atmosphere of bewilderment at the turn of the century when new inventions in science were both the rage and unknown frontier of the day. However, it starts off with the promise of showing us something really astounding and we wait for it, the problem here is, it becomes convoluted in the process. It falls short of the prestige is was determined to deliver.