Every now and then a movie comes along that takes your breath away, a movie that leaves you both perplexed and entertained. An even rarer thing would be when a film actively improves with each viewing. One such film is Christopher Nolan's supernova The Prestige. The film has just about everything you'd expect from a complete blockbuster: rivalry, camaraderie, betrayal, twists and turns, action, romance, brilliant acting, an ensemble cast, and tonnes and tonnes of enjoyment.
The Prestige is a classic "two-hero" film about rival magicians fighting and yearning to outdo one another for fame and success. The film features Christian Bale and Hugh Jackman as the magicians. The actors are paired perfectly together and the story doesn't suffer in order to make either character shine, a common ailment of ensemble or "two-hero" films. (Examples include Ocean's Eleven and The Man from U.N.C.L.E. amongst others.)
Christian Bale and Hugh Jackman are equally spectacular in their roles. They are characters divided by methods but united by motives. They are two sides of the same coin. Both play characters that may be unfamiliar to audiences used to their work. This makes for a fresh and compelling narrative. The film also features Scarlett Johansson as a young alluring assistant who brings chaos and balance in equal measure, her acting is subtle yet striking. Michael Caine shines as a mentor struggling to maintain peace in an increasingly hostile conflict. There's also David Bowie in a spectacular cameo filled with zest and passion yet without any over-exuberance.
The film's direction is magnificent and near perfect. The surprises never stop and the foreshadowing is impeccable. The viewers might be constantly confused, but always amazed. The story is potent and intricate but also highly watchable. The pacing isn't rushed, it's perfectly crafted. This allows director Nolan to carefully shape his characters, introduce their motives, desires, strengths, and weaknesses. The film often relies on illusion, but not in a way that isolates the audience. The illusions are complex but believable, they have a sense of grandeur without delving into the absolutely impossible.
The movie's success lies in the details, and in that at its core it's a drama and conflict between two rival professionals. It is aided by its thriller/suspense and sci-fi elements but is never outright dependent on them. This enables the story to entertain because of these elements rather than in spite of them. The film is brilliant overall, from start to finish and in each and every department. It's a modern-day masterpiece and possibly one of Christopher Nolan's most underrated features. Despite its complicated story and unfamiliar concepts, it's an enjoyable and thrilling watch. The story is superb and is complemented by stupendous acting, smart cinematography, and a solid background score. Watching the film is like eating your favorite meal: once you've had a taste you can't help but keep coming back for it.