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The Prestige
Reviewed by Laura Eldred, © 2006

Format: Movie
By:   Christopher Nolan
Genre:   Magic
Released:   October 20, 2006
Review Date:   October 27, 2006
Audience Rating:   PG-13
RevSF Rating:   9/10 (What Is This?)

Rarely has this girl seen a movie with such a fascinating plot alongside so much eye-candy. If you had told me a year ago that I'd be seeing a film starring Hugh Jackman, Christian Bale, and David Bowie, I'd have thought, "Yeah, right. And where's it showing -- the back of my eyelids at midnight?"

But luckily the movie exists, and it's out at your local cineplex, ready to be enjoyed. The plot is fascinating; the director does his thang with panache; the acting's superb; the settings and costumes are even top notch. I don't really have any complaints, except that a couple of birds die in the film. Dead birds: not high on Laura's list of favorite things.

Here's the lowdown. Or, as low as it's going to get without me revealing any of the ending's AMAZING PLOT TWISTS ™. Rupert (Hugh Jackman) and Alfred (Christian Bale) start out as friends and co-conspirators in the dark world of 19th-century illusionists, where what brings in audiences is a new trick, and where new tricks might well get you killed. That's not just because many of these illusions are dangerous to perform; there's also a world of perennial backstabbing and one-upmanship behind the scenes, as magicians compete for audiences and funding.

But a mistake from Alfred dissolves their friendship into a deadly feud, as each tries to steal the other's secrets, and, perhaps, the other's life. The key trick in this feud is one called "The Transported Man," in which a man leaves point A and appears at point B faster than it should be humanly possible to move between two points -- not to mention that the audience doesn't see the man make that journey.

The film is based on a 1996 novel of the same title by Christopher Priest. In a lesser director's hands, this could have made for an entertaining, if a bit dull, period mystery piece. But director Christopher Nolan (who you may remember from such films as Batman Begins and Memento) has a flair for all things dark, twisted, and angsty, and he delivers again on this film. The plot piles trick upon trick, disguise upon disguise, and twist upon twist as viewers wonder "How did he do that?" Nolan provides just enough information, however, that the viewer never gets lost, or so confused as to be frustrated. The hints and misdirections are tantalizing, never annoying.

Nolan also gravitates toward tales in which identities get manipulated, shift, and even buckle under the pressure of obsessive desire. The Prestige is, in many ways, quite similar to Batman Begins. Each outlines the toll of obsessive commitment to an ideal, and the urge to escape the normal boundaries of human identity and become something more.

And in both films, the way to accomplish this is a lot of hard work and some illusion, with, perhaps, a dash of magic thrown in. In Nolan's world, to quote Tesla in the film, "Man's grasp exceeds his reach." The impossible becomes merely the improbable.

Allow me to wax rhapsodic on the joys of David Bowie briefly. I wrote him a haiku.

O David Bowie
Your brilliance outshines us all
As does your hawtness.

I was raised on films like The Dark Crystal, Legend, and Labyrinth, and David Bowie has a special place in my heart. His leather-clad glam crooner Jareth the Goblin King has, to no small degree I think, influenced my personal predilections in men. Hence, I was very excited to see Bowie in this film. Though his Nikola Tesla does not drip liquid sex, as did Jareth, Bowie delivers an understated and intense performance as the obsessive, perfectionist scientist. Not to mention he nails his accent.

I didn't actually suspect that Bowie had such versatility as an actor, but, there you go. As a side note for those of you as scientifically illiterate as myself, Nikola Tesla was a real turn-of-the-century scientist, credited with many brilliant innovations as well as some crackpot theories.

I have no haikus for Hugh Jackman or Christian Bale. I hope that they don't read this and feel left out. I would like to say that Jackman is likely the best combination of sexiness and serious acting chops that Hollywood can offer right now. I rarely look at a man's back and think, "Wow, he's hot." Backs just don't do it for me. But Jackman's back is special. And Jackman's performance, at turns cruelly self-satisfed and boyishly disarming, is truly excellent. Similar props for Bale. His back doesn't measure up, but his character Alfred has a low-class, obsessed smarminess that subtly, but effectively, munches on the scenery.

This movie is a good time, especially if you enjoy a film that leaves you scratching your head a bit. I had fun during my drive home trying to sort out the revelations of the last fifteen minutes. It's also a well-directed, well-acted, well-costumed, well-scenery-ified film. With David Bowie in it.

What more could you want? And if you like dead birds, you'll be extra happy.

Are you watching closely? RevolutionSF contributor Laura Eldred is behind you right now. And invisible. And stealing your swanky optical mouse.

 
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