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Film Review: The Prestige

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Film Review: The Prestige
Take some of Hollywood’s hottest actors and set them in a compelling plot of intrigue and competition in the world of magic, and you have “The Prestige." While the film's main characters are magicians, there's actually little magic in the film. It's all about the characters, which is a good thing, and their competitive natures and obsessions.

A Dream Team

Of course, "The Prestige" stars Hugh Jackman and Christian Bale as magicians who are deadly rivals in the early 1900s. Michael Caine stars as the illusion designer and stage manager, and Scarlett Johansson is the assistant who works for both magicians. The film was directed by Christopher Nolan who directed "Batman Begins." A winning team, “The Prestige” reunites Bale, Caine and Nolan, as well as screenwriter Jonathan Nolan, the director's brother.

While there have been famous rivalries in magic’s history--Maskelyne and Keller battling over the levitation, the race to perform the finest sawing of a lady and Houdini versus Blackstone--nothing resembles the brutal and deadly lengths to which the film’s main characters will go. As Jackman and Bale sabotage each other, the ultimate goal is to perform a coveted illusion-a human teleportation--which Bale performs and Jackman wants to master.


The film is essentially a magic trick with lots of twists and turns and a tendency to jump around in time, to its benefit. Jackman and Bale serve excellent performances and Johansson is subdued and appropriate. The film’s themes of obsession and the lengths to which rivals will go to achieve at another’s expense could have probably been set in the world of athletics, science or invention with equal success.

“The Prestige” goes beyond the world of magic and stretches into realms of science fiction. Instead of existing as a period piece that profiles magic, the film often feels like a plot based on some Jules Verne novel. For some, the film may prove to be a little too clever. But overall, while it’s not deep drama, it’s satisfying entertainment.

The film exposes some magic secrets: hidden panels, trapdoors and collapsing props--things that lay audiences already suspect. Nothing that’s hurtful. A brief portrayal of Chung Ling Soo just felt wrong based on what I’ve read about the performer. The film also presents cruelty towards birds. (I think that this is fictional. I’ve never heard of magicians doing such things in shows.)

No Geeks

Reading the film’s end credits, magic consultants Ricky Jay and Michael Weber were buried deep, listed after the caterers and before the animal trainers. Could this indicate the importance of magic in the film?

While people who sabotage and hurt others are hardly positive role models, at least in this film, the magicians aren't corny clowns, geeks in wizard suits or anti-social nerds in tuxes-the usual Hollywood portrayals. I'll take Hugh Jackman and Christian Bale as charismatic magicians any day. And when they’re in a movie that’s this good, it’s icing on the cake.

-Wayne N. Kawamoto

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