review for The Prestige on AllMovie

The Prestige (2006)
by Perry Seibert review

Filmmakers are no strangers to the world of magic and illusions. Both Orson Welles and Woody Allen were talented amateur magicians, and directors sometimes treat editing as little more than an excuse to fool audiences and exert their powers of manipulation. Christopher Nolan and his brother Jonathan Nolan juggle timelines with such ease and dexterity that seeing them tackle the topic of illusionists would seem to be a perfect fit of talent and material. The Prestige is the cinematic equivalent of watching a Penn & Teller show. The Nolans, like the comedy magic duo, lay out exactly what they are going to do. The answers to the mysteries are right in front of the viewer for pretty much the entire film, but they surround the simple truths with so much misdirection and showmanship that even the most alert viewer is likely to be taken in by the elaborate ruse. The filmmakers reveal everything about their characters' tricks, including plainly stating the dramatic arc that a good magic trick follows, and still manage to thrill the audience with their skill. The look of Christopher Nolan's films are, for the most part, cold. He has a very cerebral, considered tone to his movies that would be off-putting if not for the fact that he consistently hires actors who are able to get at viewers' emotions. Christian Bale and Hugh Jackman, as the magicians carrying on a lethal feud, carry the weight of The Prestige, each playing deeply flawed characters whose drive and ambition make them inherently interesting. In lesser hands, The Prestige could have become an empty exercise where the twists and turns might seem at best arbitrary or, at worst, manipulative. Thankfully, the editing and imagemaking is so precise, and the screenplay so beautifully layered, that the finished result tickles the audience with anticipation and bewilderment. The Nolans and their talented cast never play the viewers for suckers, even when fooling them right in front of their eyes.