The Prestige (12A)

ANDREW CLARKE This is an evocative tale of illusion and misdirection in Victorian London and another visual masterpiece from virtuoso British director Christopher Nolan.


This is an evocative tale of illusion and misdirection in Victorian London and another visual masterpiece from virtuoso British director Christopher Nolan.

As with his other films - Memento and Insomnia and to some extent the back-to-basics Batman Begins - The Prestige is an eloquent piece of storytelling which demands that the audience pays attention to the action on screen in order to understand what is happening.

The Prestige is a tale of obsession, paranoia and betrayal in the rarefied world of music hall magicians. Michael Caine is the linchpin that holds the fragmented story together. He plays Mr Cutter, the veteran designer of stage illusions. He is the mentor of both Robert Angier (Jackman) and Alfred Borden (Bale) young apprentice magicians. Their world is irrevocably shattered when an escapology trick involving a sealed water tank goes horribly wrong and Angier's wife Julia (Perabo) is drowned.

Angier blames Borden for her death as the overly-confident magician cannot remember what knot he tied. Caine's Mr Cutter seeks to get the distraught Angier up on his feet and engineers for him to be a solo star in his own right.

Meanwhile, across town, Alfred Borden is proving to be a match for the more showbizzy Angier - particularly when he come up with a fantastical trick which shows him being instantly transported across the stage. Angier becomes consumed with jealousy and vows to find out his rival's secret.

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Nolan again prefers a fragmented narrative flitting from the present to two or three different flashbacks for both Angier and Borden, but he is such a consummate storyteller that he neatly resolves all the various loose threads in an ending which will keep you guessing until the last minute.

The performances from all the lead actors are as compelling as you would expect given such rich material and such a hands-on, imaginative director as Nolan. Caine shines as the wise old trickmaster and also serves as the film's narrator to keep audiences from becoming too baffled.

Jackman and Bale both bring a great deal of life and integrity to their roles and create two strikingly different characters for audiences to get behind. Both men are obsessed with becoming the best magician in London and obsessed with not only topping the other but making sure that their rival is brought low in the process.

Jackman's Angier is a well spoken, obviously well-educated, slightly upper-class showman, while Bale's Borden is a rough and ready, working-class opportunist who has been shaped by the world in which he grew up. The supporting performances by David Bowie and Andy Serkis as a pair of colourful American inventors almost threaten to steal the film from the stars, but Caine, Jackman and Bale are too good to allow that to happen and Nolan, obviously, doesn't want them to overpower the story.

Nevertheless, they bring a little light relief and a degree of eccentricity to the story just when events threaten to get too dark. The other distraction from some of the darker moments of the story comes from Scarlett Johansson who plays Olivia Winscombe, a resourceful stage assistant who manages to get both the main protagonists to fall in love with her. Her English accent is surprisingly good and Nolan, like any good director, uses her to good effect - not only to enhance the story, but to also distract audiences when he wishes to disguise a clue as to what is really going on.

Nolan's recreation of Victorian London, the Victorian theatre world in particular, is stunning and provides instant atmosphere for this compelling story. It is easy to imagine that the photography, costumes, set design will all scoop up Oscar nominations when awards season arrives next spring.

After an autumn filled with recycled horror films, high school comedies and lame action films, it's great to see a movie designed for grown ups.

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