The Prestige (2006)

reviewed by
Steve Rhodes


THE PRESTIGE
A film review by Steve Rhodes
Copyright 2006 Steve Rhodes
RATING (0 TO ****):  **

Rarely has magic been presented less magically than in THE PRESTIGE. Oh, the clever tricks are all there, but the staging is so serious and glum that watching it is like trying to get sexual titillation by reading anatomy textbooks.

Directed by Christopher Nolan, whose signature film, MEMENTO, literally sizzles with energy, THE PRESTIGE, in contrast, is nearly lifeless in its production. Would a great opera still be a great opera if it was always sung at half-speed? I think not. Almost every scene of THE PRESTIGE drags out, as if the cast and crew think that they are being paid by the hour.

Still, at the heart of THE PRESTIGE is a fascinating tale about rival magicians. Set at a time in which electricity was just being deployed, the movie is quite successful in atmospherics and set decoration. But the dark cinematography further makes the material more uninviting. With a little bit more light and a lot less running time -- there is at least a full half hour of fat in the convoluted narrative -- the movie could have been enjoyable and worth recommending.

The movie, which contrasts magic with science, has one of the magicians, Alfred Borden (Christian Bale), on trial for killing his rival, Robert Angier (Hugh Jackman), by locking him in a tank of water. Normally magicians use special locks that are easy to open, but Borden supposedly switched locks on Angier, causing his death. Since Angier holds Borden responsible for the death of Angier's wife (Piper Perabo) by bungling a magic trick, we immediately suspect and realize that Borden is somehow being framed.

As the complex story slowly, oh, so very slowly evolves, it becomes increasingly clear that its whole purpose is just to set up a couple of twists. One of these is telegraphed early and often, so by the time the twist occurs, everyone in the audience has guessed it. The other twist is a bit harder to figure out, but its surprise is hardly worth slogging through the rest of the narrative to get there.

About the only reason to see the film is to gain some insight into how some of the old magic tricks were performed. One especially tragic shock was that one popular trick involved the killing of a bird each time the act was performed. On the whole, you'd gain more by picking up a book on magic from the library than paying to see THE PRESTIGE. It would also be more fun. An even better idea would be to see THE ILLUSIONIST, an infinitely better period piece about a magician.

THE PRESTIGE runs way too long at 2:10. It is rated PG-13 for "violence and disturbing images" and would be acceptable for kids around 10 and up.

The film is playing in nationwide release now in the United States. In the Silicon Valley, it is showing at the AMC theaters, the Century theaters and the Camera Cinemas.

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