Are you watching closely? That is the very important question asked in this absorbing drama about the excessive rivalry between two magicians in early twentieth-century London. It is also a question that comes to the fore in all the films directed by Christopher Nolan (Memento, Insomnia, Batman Begins). He is notorious for time shifts and presenting characters with obsessions. The Prestige is based on a novel by Christopher Priest; the screen adaptation is by Christopher Nolan and his brother Jonathan. It is a dazzler that keeps us on the edge of our seats wondering what will happen next.
Michael Caine serves as the narrator of this tale and also plays Cutter, a designer of illusions used by magicians to arouse audiences always looking for something to take their breathe away. He explains: "Every great magic trick consists of three acts. The first act is called The Pledge: the magician shows you something ordinary, but of course, it probably isn't. The second act is called The Turn. The magician makes his ordinary something do something extraordinary. Now, of you're looking for the secret. . . . you won't find it. That's why there's a third act, called The Prestige. This is the part with the twists and turns, where life hangs in the balance, and you see something shocking you haven't seen before." Got your interest? It should. Cutter is quite a fascinating character who finds himself drawn into the lives of two magicians who start out as friends but end up as fierce competitors.
The handsome and sophisticated Robert Angier (Hugh Jackman) is a great showman but lacks the talent for truly amazing feats of wonder. He is accompanied in his acts by his lovely wife Julia (Piper Perabo). Alfred Borden (Christian Bale) is no great shakes in front of an audience but has the rigorous commitment to his craft and a dash of creativity. He eventually marries Sarah (Rebecca Hall) who constantly asks him whether he still loves her. She knows that his zeal for magic is an extravagant mistress.
Following the tragic death of Julia in an onstage accident which Angier blames on Borden, the two men part ways and become arch-rivals. They try to outdo each other on stage, then move on to personal acts of revenge that cause each other physical harm. Borden emerges as top dog when he comes up with a Transported Man bit. Angier schemes and manages to get his hands on his rival's workbook and diary. He journeys to Colorado Springs in hopes of finding a new direction for his work with Serbian scientist and inventor Nikola Tesla (David Bowie). This wizard powers the city with electricity from his laboratory.
Are you watching closely? The magician in writer and director Christopher Nolan enables us to probe in a very up-close and personal way the yearnings of these two magicians. The woman who has a crucial role to play in their lives is Olivia (Scarlett Johansson). She starts out as Angier's assistant on stage and is sent by him to spy on Borden, but then she falls in love with Borden. The Prestige explores the mysteries surrounding magic and the human need to be dazzled and dumbfounded by tricks and illusions.
Special DVD features include "The Director's Notebook: The Cinematic Sleight of Hand of Christopher Nolan" and "The Art of The Prestige Gallery."