Is The Prestige Christopher Nolan’s greatest film? Of course, it has strong competition from The Dark Knight and Memento (of course, readers will also point to Inception, Interstellar and Dunkirk). But in my humble opinion, it’s comparable to Coppola’s The Conversation. He squeezed that in between Godfather Part I and II and I reckon it beats both of them. For Nolan, he squeezed The Prestige in between Batman Begins and The Dark Knight…and again, I reckon it beats both of them…and every other Nolan film.
Let’s set the scene: it’s the late 19th century, and The Great Dante (Hugh Jackman) is performing magic tricks in front of a captive audience. He tells the audience that for his final trick he will teleport himself. A machine crackles with lightning and Dante steps into it. The curtain drops, hiding him from the audience. A trapdoor opens, and he falls into a water tank. During this occurrence, a man (Christian Bale) sneaks backstage to see Dante trapped in the water tank. He seems to know Dante…Bale turns out to be a rival magician, Alfred Borden, and is accused of Dante’s murder…
You want to be fooled
Of course, beginning the film with the ending is a cliché as old as time (Nolan used it in Inception as well…). However, Nolan keeps us focused by utilising a non-linear narrative to his advantage. As the film goes on, Borden reads Dante’s journal (in prison)…and in Dante’s journal, Dante writes about reading Borden’s journal! It’s a Nolan film: you know you’ll have to pay close attention to everything. However, I reckon its Nolan’s best use of non-linearity in his film catalogue. I thought its use was pointless and frustrating in Dunkirk. There’s close competition with Memento (where the beginning is the ending…LITERALLY!), but The Prestige doesn’t hold the audience’s hand (as much as, say, Inception does).
There are twists and turns, but it isn’t a film that seems trivial after the twists and turns are revealed. You can watch it over and over again, to admire its non-linearity and absorb all of the clues and red herrings that are hurled your way. It takes more than one viewing to pick everything apart, to sort out the structure and narrative in your mind. Not only that, but it’s a Nolan film that rewards the viewers with viable pay-offs, rather than barraging the viewer with loud music, long scenes of exposition and being clever without being condescending. It remains Nolan’s most incisive and intricate script.
But for the script and plot to work, the actors have to be on top form. And everyone here is on top form. Christian Bale’s cockney accent doesn’t grind the ears, and it’s probably in his top three performances (I’ll always think his turn in Empire of the Sun is his best!). Hugh Jackman shows subtlety and bravado in his turn as The Great Dante. Michael Caine is, well Michael Caine. While the females aren’t given strong character arcs like the males, they still stand out among the packed cast. Oh, David Bowie as Nikola Tesla is a piece of casting genius! RIP Bowie, RIP.
“Simple maybe, but not easy”
The background they act on is as beautiful as any Nolan film you can name. Yes, it may not have the fancy effects of Inception or Interstellar, but it brings a life and reality to what could have been a typical late 19th century setting. Apparently, most of the magic tricks are actually magic tricks, in a move typical of Nolan. He hates CGI, doesn’t he? This film is all the better for imitating real life magic tricks, rather than substituting them for poor CGI (I’m looking at you, Now You See Me!). There’s one scene in particular, where lightbulbs are spread out on a snowy plain, that’s just fantastic to look at.
In short, The Prestige is the ultimate Christopher Nolan film. It displays all of his idiosyncrasies, but here they are just right. It follows Nolan’s usual themes of sacrifice, obsession and secrecy. But here they seem genuine, rather than tacked on to give a complex story a greater meaning. It’s beautiful to look at, the casting is spot on, and the non-linear narrative reveals the twists and turns just when the time is ripe. It’s a film you won’t easily forget (oh, that was meant to be a punchline for my review of Memento…but I can use it again, can’t I).
VERDICT: 10/10. Abracadabra! Christopher Nolan really did knock it out of the park for this one. It’s possibly his greatest film…
What do you think about The Prestige (2006)? Leave your thoughts/opinions below!
Click here for my review of Inception (2010)
Click here for my reivew of Dunkirk (2017)
“There are twists and turns, but it isn’t a film that seems trivial after the twists and turns are revealed.”
This… No, I wholeheartedly agree with every word you said here. This is also my favorite Nolan film. In comparison though, I don’t think highly of either TDK or Memento. Memento I remember was fun to watch, but the payoff was lacking. For me, it’s comparable to Roberto Rodriguez’s El Mariachi. I admire both films for something (the non-linear story in Memento, the low-budget actioner in El Mariachi), but they’re not really dope. TDK is kind of a mess, it has a lot of good things in it, but there lots of bad things as well (the action, the editing, Batman taking blame and Gordon’s speech in the end). My second favorite Nolan is probably Interstellar. And Dunkirk, I’d say his worst.
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I’d agree on Dunkirk. I was bored through. I love the middle of Interstellar, but it takes a little too long to get going and the ending always makes me groan!