The Prestige: Christopher Nolan’s underrated masterpiece is finally coming to Netflix
Le Prestige (13+, 130mins) Directed by Christopher Nolan *****
Each great magic trick consists of three acts.
The first is called The Pledge; the magician shows you something ordinary, but it probably isn’t. The second act is The Turn; the magician has something extraordinary done in his usual way.
Now if you are looking for the secret you will not find it. This is why there is a third act called, The Prestige; it’s the part with the twists and turns, where lives are on the line, and you see something shocking that you’ve never seen before.
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Enthusiastic students of magic, Alfred Bordern (Christian Bale) and Robert Angier (Hugh Jackman) are familiar with the above formula. Two young gentlemen from Victorian England devoted to an illusion, they aim to push the boundaries in the name of entertainment and give audiences something new.
Everyone has their own style. Bordern (aka The Professor) is a risk taker, unafraid to get his hands dirty to achieve the impossible, while Angier (aka The Great Danton) is the ultimate showman – an accomplished professional, skillful but sure. .
They never intended to hurt anyone, but when a trick takes horrific form, the two end up becoming more than just professional rivals.
Obsessed with outdoing themselves, their acts of subterfuge and sabotage continue to escalate until one is charged with murdering the other.
Based on Christopher Priest’s intricate 1995 novel of the same name, Prestige is a dark, dense, and devilishly intelligent drama from writer-director Christopher Nolan – perhaps his most entertaining and underrated film yet.
Adaptation of the tale with his brother Jonathan (Memento), Nolan throws in the book’s modern framework and tweaks a few other vital elements, upping the rivalry and recriminations a few notches.
Prestige the plot of the puzzle also allows him to explore his first familiar themes of obsession (Insomnia), imperfect, defective heroes (Memento) and the dark recesses of the human heart (Batman begins).
Some may struggle with its story in a story in a story and its non-linear structure, but the payoff is well worth it.
Christopher Nolan has directed some of the biggest blockbusters in cinema over the past 20 years.
A sin Remembrance, Insomnia and the later Black Knight and Creation, its biggest turn is to subvert the expectations of the audience and make them change their sympathies between the characters. As we all know too well by now, no one should be seen in black or white terms in a Nolan movie.
Collaborating again with cinematographer Wally Pfister, Nolan’s tracing and sliding camera and excellent use of light and shadow add to the suspense and fantasy elements, while David Julyan’s haunting score contains just what ‘It takes threat to leave the audience a little pissed off.
While playing with the type, Bale’s bovver boy (Nolan’s Batman) and Jackman’s chic toff (X-Men’s Wolverine) are prime examples of brilliant casting. As he showed in American psychopath and The machinist, Bale is superb when it comes to role-playing and evoking sympathy in the dark, while Jackman excels at portraying life’s most privileged (The greatest showman the most recent example among many).
The pair are helped by an extremely impressive supporting cast. Nolan’s tailsman, Michael Caine (The Bat Trilogy, Interstellar) perfected her stage flight here, Rebecca Hall (Vicky Cristina Barcelona, ââIron Man 3) is fascinating as a long-suffering woman from Bordern, while Scarlett Johansson (Marvel’s Black Widow) proves the magician’s philosophy that a pretty assistant is the most important form of bad leadership.
Also look for the terrific cameos from Sir Peter Jackson’s favorite man, Andy Serkis, and the slender White Duke himself, David Bowie.
Even 15 years later, Prestige is a reminder of the powerful power of a little directing and superior storytelling. Just be sure to look very closely.
Prestige is now available to stream on Netflix.