Saturday Review: The Prestige

Last year saw two well-made mysteries about Victorian/Edwardian magicians. I enjoyed both, but prefer The Prestige. It also features a strong genre element and, since we missed it first time ’round, we’re posting it as this week’s Saturday Review.

Happy Easter!

Hunt for eggs. Whoopee.

Title: The Prestige

Cast, Crew, and Other Info:

Director: Christopher Nolan.

Writers: Jonathan Nolan , Christopher Nolan, Christopher Priest (adapted from his novel).


Christian Bale as Alfred Borden
Hugh Jackman as Robert Angier
Michael Caine as Cutter
Piper Perabo as Julia McCullough
Scarlett Johansson as Olivia Wenscombe
Samantha Mahurin as Jess
Rebecca Hall as Sarah
David Bowie as Nikola Tesla


After a fatal turn to a trick ends their friendship, two late Victorian magicians carry on an escalating, life-long feud.

High Point:

1. The plot features time-shifts and complex twists, but Nolan presents it in a manner which never becomes pointlessly confusing.

2.David Bowie’s appearances as Tesla.

Low Point:

We have to accept certain things to make this movie work, but even in context, this one stretches credability at times. Tesla’s machine, coincidentally, really works? It’s only ever used for a conjurer’s trick? Or, if the machine doesn’t actually work…. Okay, that’s an argument for the discussion board. We also have the convention of rivals in a thriller perfecting calling (when the plot requires) each other’s responses to various plots.egg

The Scores:

Originality: 5/6. egg

Story: 5/6 See High and Low points.

Effects: 6/6 The special effects are entirely convincing, though often low-key. I don’t mean to drag in that other magical rivalry– The Prestige vs The Illustionist— because they are fundamentally different kinds of films, but the latter’s tricks look like CGI effects that could never have been staged in real life, now or one hundred years ago.1 Even the most far-fetched tricks in The Prestige look like something that could have appeared on stage.egg

Acting. 6/6. This film features an impressive cast, and they turn in strong performances. Interestingly, three of the lead actors have played lead roles in comic-inspired films. David Bowie makes a remarkable supporting appearance as Nikola Tesla.

Production: 5/6. Many of the key clues to the mystery take the form of memorable images: the cats and the hats, the secret of the theatre’s cellar.

Emotional Response: 5/6. The film creates suspense, even though you will likely anticipate some of its twists. At other times, the mood becomes downright creepy.

Overall: 5/6.

The Prestige receives a total score of 37/42

1. I don’t want to take The Illusionist’s tricks too literally. A less spectacular version of the growing tree, for example, was performed by Robert Houdin. Perhaps we’re supposed to be seeing them with the same sense of wonder as a nineteenth-century audience.

4 replies on “Saturday Review: The Prestige”

  1. Tesla and the Birds
    I too was a bit disappointed by the fact that Tesla’s machine worked … it was an over the top amount of science fiction for what was otherwise an extremely plausible and down to earth suspense thriller focused on the world of stage magic. I would have preferred to find out that the drunk actor was once again involved, and that Angier had killed him to frame Borden.

    That said, I’m perfectly willing to overlook the sudden and out of place fantacism because of how well done everything was — cats and hats and the cellar are all well and impressive, but they are nothing compared to how the method of the Vanishing Bird Trick is an allegory to not one but both of the men’s Prestige illusions — it’s freaking brilliant.

    (Not to mention Borden’s wife: "some days you mean it, but not today." … awesome)

    • Re: Tesla and the Birds

      (Not to mention Borden’s wife: "some days you mean it, but not today." … awesome)

      A number of the revelations that make sense of smaller moments are indeed excellent. I wish more mainstream filmmakers, genre and otherwise, understood that these things can be more impressive than the over-the-top stuff they often force into the story.

      This director’s own Batman Begins, for example, was a good movie, and it didn’t need the completely over-the-top-even-by-superhero-standards ending. If the audience has bought into the film, they’ll stay with it even if stuff’s not blowin’ up.

      • Re: Tesla and the Birds
        I saw someone describe this film as ‘shallow’ recently. This makes me sad.

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