Screenwriter: Christopher Nolan, Jonathan Nolan
Starring: Christian Bale, Hugh Jackman, Scarlett Johansson, Michael Caine, David Bowie
Christian Bale and Hugh Jackman star as stage illusionists in Victorian London in this adaptation of Christopher Priest's novel of the same name. Bale plays Alfred Borden, a working-class man with a flair for the craft who works his way up from the bottom, alongside Jackman's Robert Angier, who is less instinctive about magic but is a better showman.
Though the pair at first engage in healthy competition, an action from Borden soon drives a wedge between them and transforms their relationship into one of bitter rivalry. Angier decides on the best route to vengeance - stealing and improving upon Borden's trademark trick.
After an image of a myriad of top hats sitting in a wood - a scene which, like many others, refuse to make sense until Nolan deems it appropriate - ingeneur Cutter (Caine) explains three stages of a magic trick. First is The Pledge, where the magician shows something ordinary, then The Turn, where it is made to do something extraordinary, and finally The Prestige, where the trick shockingly comes together.
The Nolans have, like Priest did in his novel, structured their film around this premise but in an entirely different way. The book begins and ends in the modern day, showing the effects of the feud on the illusionists' decendants, with the remainder taking the form of journal entries and autobiographical scribblings. This approach is eschewed by the filmmakers in favour of an equally captivating structure and which, like the director's other films, both demands and encourages the audience to pay full attention.
Differing from its source material in content as much as style, the film takes liberties with the exact flow of the plotline, focussing much more clearly upon the feud itself rather than the magicians' individual lives and careers. Although we get essentially the same result, these differences mean that even those who have read the book will be as surprised as the uninitiated at some points.
Nolan never dictates to us where our sympathies ought to lie, with both Borden and Angier being well fleshed out and well-portrayed, though Bale (who previously worked with the director on the excellent Batman Begins) tips the scales in Borden's favour.
A more streamlined and focussed affair than its literary predecessor, The Prestige aims by cinematic sleight-of-hand to misdirect its audience throughout in order for a rewarding pay-off at the ending's big reveal and, although the clues are there to be seen by those who are watching closely enough, it succeeds.
Congratulations! This week's clue word is RENOVATE.