Christopher Nolan’s film “The Prestige” (2006) is an adaptation of Christopher Priest’s novel of the same name about two magician friends who become mortal enemies. Alfred Borden (Christian Bale) stands trial in turn-of-the-century London for the murder of Robert Angier (Hugh Jackman) and faces the gallows. The story is set up as all tricks in three parts: The Pledge, the Turn and the Prestige. Only at the end will we find out the truth.
We are taken back into the year 1887 when both Alfred and Angier were still friends and assisting a magician on stage. During one of the shows Angier’s wife Julia has a fatal accident and Angier blames Borden for her death.
From then on, Angier performs as the Great Danton with Cutter (Caine) as his illusion engineer and Olivia (Johansson) as assistant while Borden pursues his own magical career with Fallon as his assistant. Both disrupt each other’s performances in their ongoing rivalry and Angier at one point injures Borden during a bullet catching performance shooting off two of his fingers.
Once Borden performs his “Transported Man” Angier becomes obsessed with finding out how the trick actually works. He is convinced Borden does not use a Double but is forced to utilize one himself when copying Borden’s trick which he calls “The New Transported Man”. However, the Angier faces more and more difficulties with his double and finally it ends in a fiasco for the Great Danton when performing his version of the “Transported Man”.
Angier sends Olivia to start working for Borden and spy on him. Through Olivia Angier gets hold of Borden’s notebook, written in a cipher, containing all his tricks. All Angier needs is the keyword, which he gets from Borden after abducting his assistant Fallon and trading his life for the keyword “TESLA”.
This is where the movie for me enters a slippery slope, not because of the character Tesla (David Bowie) but because up until then there was no “real magic”. The machine Tesla builds clones any matter that passes through it, hats, cats, Algiers. The “Prestige” here is far less attractive as e.g. in “The Illusionist“.
Production values are excellent, as are costumes and sound. The story certainly is intriguing and it is a remarkable adaptation of the novel. Still, the film oversimplifies too much at times for my taste and is smoothed out so much that it somehow leaves me dissatisfied. The machine was too perfect (it did not work properly in the novel). It pushes the whole movie onto a level where you completely have to suspend all disbelief no matter what while at the same time you get presented with Turns and Prestiges that do not support nor require that suspension. The fact that you had to accept that the machine was real in order for the film to “work” did not work out for me, if you get my meaning.
Nevertheless, “The Prestige” is very well acted (even if we only get cardboard characters) and well scripted which makes for 128 minutes of solid entertainment, spiced with some nice twists and turns.