The Prestige

Director: Christopher Nolan.
Screenplay: Jonathan Nolan, Christopher Nolan.
Starring: Christian Bale, Hugh Jackman, Scarlett Johansson, Michael Caine, Rebecca Hall, David Bowie, Andy Serkis, Piper Perabo, Ricky Jay, Roger Rees, Jamie Harris, Samantha Mahurin, W. Morgan Sheppard, Daniel Davis, Edward Hibbert.

“Now you’re looking for the secret. But you won’t find it because of course, you’re not really looking. You don’t really want to work it out. You want to be fooled”

Having delivered such strong films as Memento, Inception and Interstellar (outwith the hugely successful Dark Knight trilogy), it’s safe to say that director Christopher Nolan’s output is of a very high standard. Many may even claim that he’s yet to make a bad film and that his filmography is nothing but quality. For me, though, The Prestige is an exception to that and a major blip in an otherwise solid résumé. 

At the turn of the 19th century, celebrated stage magician Alfred Borden (Christian Bale) is accused of the murder of Julia McCullough (Piper Perabo), the wife of his partner Rupert Angier (Hugh Jackman). Her death happened during a magic trick but Angier puts the blame solely on Borden. As a result, the pair become rivals and a bitter feud takes place between them as they try to sabotage each others tricks with dangerous consequences.

As the film opens, we are informed that every magic trick consists of three parts or acts. The first part is called “The Pledge” where the magician shows you something ordinary. The second act is called “The Turn” where the magician takes the ordinary something and makes it do something extraordinary (like disappear). But making something disappear isn’t enough; you have to bring it back. That’s why every magic trick has a third act, the hardest part, the part that’s called “The Prestige”. And so the stage is set for Nolan’s stylish and elaborate sleight of hand. He adheres to this magicians three act rule in the films structure but it’s the hardest act (and the one that shares the film’s title) that actually undoes the whole affair.

In saying this, it would suggest the film is let down solely by it’s reveal. It’s not. From the outset the film is very slow and tedium sets in very early. I don’t have a problem with slow builds and I’m actually very fond of a good magic trick. Nolan’s premise is very enticing and having two warring magicians play against each other should make for gripping entertainment. Only it doesn’t. It’s a laborious and excruciatingly dull endeavour which is very surprising considering it’s Nolan in charge.

With films of this kind, you know there will be an attempt to pull the rug from under your feet. That’s a given and given Nolan’s track record of being more than able to deliver a good twist, you expect that you’re in safe hands. However, it reaches a point where it’s just one preposterous plot twist after another with the ultimate misgiving being that Nolan doesn’t capture a sense of wonder. It’s difficult to accept the plot developments when you know that it’s all just elaborately staged for the sake of it. It’s like trying to convince the viewer that CGI is actually real. There’s no way your going buy it and this film is as similarly unacceptable as that preposterous proposal. As for the final reveal, when it actually happens, it just stinks. It’s a ludicrous revelation that’s so tenuous that it’s practically impossible to work it out and left me with feelings of frustration. Maybe this was Nolan’s intentions all along but, to me, it felt like a con.

Granted, Nolan has a good eye for the period and his regular cinematographer Wally Pfister does some beautiful work in capturing the Victorian era amidst Nathan Crowley’s impressive production design. To the eye, it certainly looks the part but really the appearance is all smoke and mirrors. There’s really no consistency underneath it all.

Even having the charismatic leads in Bale and Jackman should work in it’s favour but the film never really knows who to fully focus on at any given time leaving the development of their relationship – and their own identities – a bit of a muddle. It’s hard to know which one to root for as their character arcs are continually blurred and messily delivered.

From what I can gather, I’m in the minority with this one. Many critics and viewers have lavished nothing but praise on it but I fail to see what the attraction is. As I’ve said, the three act structure is undoubtedly on show; we are offered the “pledge” and it delivers the “turn” but Nolan’s reveal simply doesn’t work, leaving the final product lacking the “prestige“. Which doesn’t say very much for a film that can’t even live up to its own title.

Mark Walker

Trivia: The main characters’ initials spell ABRA (Alfred Borden Robert Angier), as in Abracadabra, a common word used by magicians.


56 Responses to “The Prestige”

  1. So much I love about this movie. Like the twist being encapsulated in the opening shot.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Oy, Mark. I love this movie. The twists that come back on themselves within the context of the three acts in a magic trick. The two leads both interchangeable villain and hero in the story. My close second to Memento for Christopher Nolan films. Well, we can’t love all the same movies, now can we. 😉

    Liked by 1 person

    • Haha! Fair enough! It’s not often we disagree, Michael. Unfortunately, we will need to on this one. I have tried to like it. I’ve attempted it three times now and it just doesn’t improve for me. I understand the three acts but I didn’t like the reveal and I didn’t like the interchangeable nature of the leads. Most of all, though, I found it excruciatingly boring.

      I was more fond of the Edward Norton flick The Illusionist.

      Liked by 1 person

      • I enjoy ‘The Illusionist’, too. I can understand your sentiment, Mark. ‘The Prestige’ took time for me to bring it to its current standing. Both leads can be less than sympathetic for a good portion of the film. Only repeated screenings somehow tipped the balance in its favor.

        Liked by 1 person

      • I really tried to give it more chances, Michael. I honestly held off on my thoughts of the film for years until I’d tackled it again and again. I’ve given it that chance and yet I’m left with the same feelings. Sadly, The Prestige just doesn’t do it for me. It’s a film and a structure that’s doesn’t cut it. I really wish it did but I can’t deny the feelings of tedium and robbery that it instills.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Nice review Mark. I saw this movie ages ago and although I recall liking it, I don’t remember anything about it.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks, man. To be honest, I don’t expect many people to share my views on this. It seems to have done very well in many people eyes. It really didn’t work for me, though. I normally love Nolan’s films but I really struggle with monotony of this film.

      Liked by 1 person

      • It didn’t quite stick with me as much as some of Nolan’s other films, though I think that it’s a testament to his craftsmanship. Even though I’ve enjoyed all of his recent movies, I kind of wish he would return to making a small-scale film like Memento again.

        Liked by 1 person

      • It doesn’t stick with me at all, Charles.

        I’ve yet to see Following but The Prestige is, by far, Nolan’s worst film for me. It thinks it’s cleverer that it actually is and that’s what riles me.

        I love the big spectacles like Inception and Interstellar but, like you, I wish he’d tone it down somewhat. Memento is still my favourite film of his and still one of my all time favourite films. I include it in my personal top ten movies. That’s how highly I think of it.

        Liked by 1 person

  4. Good review Mark. As much as I like Nolan, I have to admit this isn’t one of his stronger offerings. Lots of other people love it though. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Interesting review! Funny enough, I was planning on watching it again soon. I’ll send you it when I write a review 🙂

    Ethan – Cineflek

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Just read Charles’ comment above and I’m in exactly the same boat! I saw it when it came out and certainly remember liking it at the time, but I don’t remember much about the intracacies of the plot at all. I don’t have the same problem with any of Nolan’s other films, though it might just be because I also saw The Illusionist around that time and have often confused the two. I remember Bowie popping up as Nikola Tesla but I don’t remember what ‘the prestige’ part of the story is. I guess I need to see it again!

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’m a great believer that if you don’t remember much about a film then it obviously hasn’t made much of an impact. Or has has been as affective as it should’ve been. The thing with The Prestige is that I think it’s supposed to make a lasting impression yet yourself and Charles don’t remember much about it. That’s speaks volumes to me, man. I know I’m in the minority, but The Prestige is a piece of shit. That’s probably why you’ve chosen to block it out! 😉


  7. Very fair review. I see where you’re coming from but many of those things weren’t issues for me. I’m quite the dan of this film. Definitely not up there with Inception, Memento, and The Dark Knight though.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. […] month Five for the Fifth‘s guest is Mark from Marked Movies! I’ve talked about it a few times the topic here but it’s always a fun one to […]


  9. Hi Mark, great review though I actually like this a bit more than you. Generally I like all of Nolan’s films in varying degrees. I have to admit though, I actually didn’t care for Scarlett’s casting here at all.

    P.S. Thanks again for participating in Five for the Fifth!

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’m definitely not as enamoured with this film as much others seem to, Ruth. I was actually bored throughout it and even the pay-off didn’t work for me. It’s often I criticise Nolan but this was a huge letdown for me.


  10. So twisty and crazy, but man, Nolan pulls it all off. Nice review.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Awwww, sorry to see you didn’t like this one, though fair enough. I am a big fan, but I adore Nolan, and enjoy a magic movie when done right. Great write up!

    Liked by 1 person

  12. I need to rewatch!!

    Liked by 1 person

  13. I like how you’re not afraid to be in the minority about certain movies Mark, it’s very refreshing. I do think I need to watch this again as it has been an age since my last viewing.

    Liked by 1 person

  14. On my first viewing, I did not really like the film. Thought it was rather predictable.
    But after watching a couple of times, I came to appreciate it more for its ambition in terms of of editing and ‘trying’ to fool the audience. To honest, I did not really think, on the first viewing, that it did succeed.

    Liked by 2 people

  15. One of my favorite films!

    Liked by 3 people

  16. Personally I love it but I do feel like it is one of those movies that either you ‘get’ or you don’t.

    Liked by 3 people

    • Yeah, I did try, man. I understood it and got it just fine but I just didn’t like it. I think the film thinks it’s cleverer than it actually is. It wasn’t for me at all and I normally praise Nolan’s films quite highly.

      Liked by 3 people

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