Classic Review – The Prestige (2006)

The Prestige

The Prestige

Directed by Christopher Nolan

Starring Hugh Jackman, Christian Bale, Michael Caine

Review by Jordan

I’ve decided that I hate magicians. I hate their personalities, on-stage personas, outfits, quasi dance moves and tricks. I hate the fact that in reality they are performance artists, and lousy ones at that, and that no matter how grand their ‘magic’ is, there is always a predictable resolution; a finale, the prestige.

Despite this inner (and now outward) angst, however, it should be stated that I very much took a liking to Neil Burger’s The Illusionist (2006) when my mate picked it as his choice in our regular Monday Movie Night. It is, after all, fore mostly a love story and a murder mystery, told with care and precision and featuring exquisite performances from a talented cast including Edward Norton, Paul Giamatti and the lovely Jessica Biel; from beginning to end I was captivated and intrigued, trying to solve the puzzle in my head even when it appeared there wasn’t one to be solved. As a magician hater, it would be hard for me to again be impressed by a movie dealing with the same subject, but then I watched The Prestige…

Pitting two performers with a mutual, devastating hate against each other as they strive for the perfect trick, Christopher Nolan’s highly regarded grand opus has garnered such a loyal following it’s a wonder it hasn’t knocked off The Shawshank Redemption/The Godfather Part 2 as the no. 1 ranked movie on IMDB. It’s actually quite surprising that a film with no redeemable characters whatsoever has become so popular and so extraordinarily re-watched, normally its charisma and charm that ensure a second, third or 50th visit to a particular film, but here (as with other titles such as The Usual Suspects, Mulholland Drive and The Shining) it is the complexity of the plot that keeps people coming back.

There is almost a rule when having watched The Prestige, that you must show it to someone who, if not un-familiar with it, must at least be ignorant of its story, in order to discuss the revelation and it’s evidence throughout the running time afterwards and garner an even stronger appreciation for what Nolan created. While I don’t believe this to be his best film (that honour still lies with the twisty Memento), any lover of his Batman trilogy has the duty of witnessing what can be achieved on a smaller scale. To quote David Cronenberg in his reaction to The Dark Knight Rises: “I think it’s still Batman running around in a stupid cape. I just don’t think it’s elevated. Christopher Nolan’s best movie is Memento, and that is an interesting movie. I don’t think his Batman movies are half as interesting, though they’re 20 million times the expense.” I’m nowhere near this harsh… but you get the point. The Prestige has a grand aura that hearkens back Hollywood’s Golden Age. It provides mature entertainment without the need for an R rating, and assembles a cast that covers all tastes: Hugh Jackman can sell films to nigh every Australian, Christian Bale and Michael Caine have worked hard to forge incredible reputations as dramatic actors, Scarlett Johansson is simply stunning and sizzles on screen and supporting players such as Andy Serkis, David Bowie and Piper Perabo have cult audiences that would follow them all the way to a Home Alone sequel and back.

I hate magicians. Hate them like I hate pineapple on pizza and uncomfortable cinema seats. But it needs to be said, I love The Prestige. It’s not a perfect film, the second act stands mainly as an hour of time devoted to watching two enemies come up with increasingly nasty ways to ruin each other’s reputation, and there can only be so many times that they pick each other out of their respective crowds to ‘assist’ in the performances before it becomes terribly silly, but for 130 minutes it forces its audience to suspend disbelief and jump headfirst into a labyrinth more difficult to navigate than the mind of Carlos Estevez.

That’s what cinema is all about.

4.5 murdered birds out of 5

45 responses to “Classic Review – The Prestige (2006)

    • Cheers Joseph. Memento showed what Nolan could do on a far smaller scale, and as a result really proved his film making capabilities to even the most stern critics – you hear far more criticism for Inception, his biggest film, than any of his others for this reason.
      He really can play his audience like few others, and yes, agreed!

  1. Nice review. I find it interesting how you spent 3/4 of this review talking about OTHER movies (and how you hate magicians) yet still built my interest in The Prestige. Somehow I’ve managed not to see this one yet, but after reading this review I shall fix that omission straight away. CC

    Sent from my iPhone


  2. My absolute fave! But you didn’t mention Rebecca Black, who plays Sarah; love love love her. Nice job!

  3. Oh shoot, Rebecca Black is that girl who sings that awful song. I meant Rebecca Hall, who is completely amazing and awesome in everything she does.

  4. Hey Jordan, I hate pineapple on pizza as well, but I lurrvee Christopher Nolan since Memento … Best wishes to you …

    • I just don’t get why people eat it? once you’ve taken a mouthful of pineapple the rest of the pizza may as well be spam ‘cos you’re not gonna be able to taste it.
      Thanks for stopping by!

  5. YES. To everything you wrote. (Except the bit about pineapple on pizza… I would eat nothing but pineapple on pizza.) But The Prestige is such a great film. Freakin DAVID BOWIE as Tesla?!?! What’s not to love??? 🙂

  6. I’m a big fan of THE PRESTIGE and I think it’s probably Nolan’s genuine best since MEMENTO. The original book that this is based on is quite a bit different, but just as compelling, so I recommend reading it. I like how the film isn’t so much about magicians, but ego and pride, and the destruction of two (or more) lives surrounding those egos. Rebecca Hall is also great here, as is the always-reliable Michael Caine.

    • Yes I agree, and thanks for the recommendation! I’d be very interested to read it.
      I wonder if Caine is getting a little tired always playing the butler type role for Nolan? No wonder he made Harry Brown.
      Cheers, Jordan.

      • This review was awesome and it has compelled me to watch the movie for the 6th time (I keep count :p). But Caine is the perfect man for the job, his baritone and gentle manliness combined with his caring nature make up for the best butler roles. But I see him more of a father figure to Batman, the Wayne burial scene (towards the end) in The Dark Knight Rises makes me shed a tear.

  7. Great write-up Jordan. Surprisingly, my first viewing did not impress me too much, but certainly this deserves a revisit very soon, and this review helps. Truth be told, I don’t remember much about it, but it’s Christopher Nolan, so how can it NOT be superb? 🙂

    • Haha, a very good point you make there Tom. Did you watch it by yourself the first time? I think it’s the type of movie that truly warrants a discussion afterwards.

      • I think I saw it with a few friends but most of them were actually opposed to it more than I remember being. I didn’t NOT like it, but don’t recall much about it. Which is definitely why i need to get back to it.

    • I suppose you’re never expected to like these magicians either (they truly are deplorable people), but that just adds to the involvement in the story. The ending completely blindsided me which I loved.

  8. Haven’t seen this in a while, definitely on the list for a revisit soon (ScarJo always more than enough reason to watch something!), another top review Jordan!

  9. How can you hate magicians? They’re flamboyant, mysterious and entertaining! Oh well. Great choice for a review and glad you are such a big fan of Nolan’s work. A real auteur. Nice link to Mulholland Drive too. More than a few neat parallels between the two.

    • Ha, I think it might actually be the mystery – its hard to suspend disbelief when you know the practical way most tricks will end.
      Thanks mate, had fun writing it (and yeah, always try to slip Mulholland in when I can).

  10. Jordan.
    While I enjoyed your review – there are a few things I am unsure on.

    Firstly – 4.5 rating?
    What does a movie take to get a 5 rating?
    Is there such thing as a perfect movie?
    I’d not say not. There is always something to be improved on, but a unique film with a solid cast who deliver great performances, captured greatly with no major flaws.. what does it take to top a movie into a 5?

    4.5 is that really a score?
    That’s a cop out. I want to say 5 but im too scared to, but its definitely better then a 4 movie.

    Its either a 4 or a 5 and I think you know its a 5.

    Yes your last paragraph mentioned

    ‘there can only be so many times that they pick each other out of their respective crowds to ‘assist’ in the performances before it becomes terribly silly’

    Luckily Nolan and the writers knew this, hence the reason why each magician only assisted ONCE. If you include the very last trick then you missed the whole point. It was all a set up, and he was waiting for him to come along and waiting for him to assist so he could frame him.

    Not sure if that knocked that half a point off?

    As for your hate on magicians, well that was hugh jackmans characters who purpose in the movie. And he says it right at the very end..

    something along the lines of..
    it was about the look on their faces, that you can take them away from reality even for a moment..

    and that’s why magicians do it. Magicians entertain just like actors entertain. Different art, but similar results of taking people out of reality for a moment, to believe in something that might not be true.

    Magic is all illusions, and you know its a trick. But a brilliant trick pulled off can captivate you as much as the prestige does when it blindsides you and reveals the whole movie has been a trick.

    5 out of 5
    in my top 10 films.

    Glad you enjoyed it and a great review.

    • Hi Scott. There are a few movies I have recently awarded 5 stars to (13 Assassins, The Hunt and classics such as Don’t Look Now and Pit and the Pendulum) because these films are more than just exquisite examples of their genres; they transcend them.

      If 4 stars warrants a film excellent (it does), and 5 stars as close to perfection as movies get, then I certainly stand by the fact that The Prestige, along with other titles I’ve awarded the score to lately in The House of the Devil, Sightseers and Only God Forgives fit in between. Ultimately I stand by my star rating, as I stand by the fact that The Prestige is a more-than excellent film, and the work of a master… but with areas, I believe, for slight improvement.

      Glad you enjoyed the review, but more importantly, I’m glad you love The Prestige so much! With your obvious love for it I don’t believe a review could ever do it justice for you, ha.

      Cheers, Jordan

  11. This is actually in my top three of Nolan’s, occupied by “Following” and “Insomnia”. Although “Memento” should be in there, but, well, I don’t know. I guess we could just switch the four around, depending on my mood.

    I *love* the fact that it, like the tv show “Lost”, tricked people into watching something science fiction. Plus, David Bowie showing himself as a good actor as Tesla?

    Plus there’s so many lines that I like to quote daily, completely out of context. “He uses a bloody double!” being the main one.

    I think it wins out for other Nolan films, because it’s more watchable for me. I love “Memento” like hell, but I have to be in that sort of mood to watch a film like that. But…”The Prestige” and his “Insomnia”? I can pop those in any time.

  12. Great review! Absolutely adore this film. After the first time I watched it, quickly watched it twice more with my brother and my mate so I could discuss it with them. Christopher Nolan is simply fantastic!

  13. i love this flick. i am not a Nolan fan at all. Memento is brilliant; his take on Insomnia was very good; Batman and its sequels are noisy and pretentious. But The Prestige is great, even though the characters are horrible, as you point out. i do think Nolan gives the game away too early (which is a shame). And it’s a pity that the special features on the DVD didn’t include a documentary on Tesla, truly a fascinating subject and largely forgotten.

    • Ah I was completely blindsided by the ending I must admit! Though in retrospect of course there are many, many obvious hints. As for the Nolan criticism, I must admit to not loving Inception, but The Dark Knight I feel shares a lot in common with Michael Mann’s Heat and can enjoy it immensely as a soaring crime film.
      Very true about Tesla as well! I researched him straight after watching this.

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