Having made such a startling breakthrough with 'Memento', British director Christopher Nolan then had to face the fact that, no matter what he did in the future, his films would always be judged with 'Memento' in mind. Nolan's career however has been anything but a case of too much too soon - he followed up 'Memento' with the accomplished thriller 'Insomnia' and showed that a massive budget held no fear for him with his resurrection of Batman in the Christian Bale-starring 'Batman Begins'. Now comes 'The Prestige', the first film from Nolan that's not a 'must see' but still one with plenty to admire.
Based on the 1995 Christopher Priest book, 'The Prestige' tells the story of two rival magicians in late 19th and early 20th Century England. Once friends, Angier (Jackman) and Borden (Bale) became bitter enemies after a magic trick ended in tragedy and as each has climbed the ladder of success they've made sure to knock one another down a rung or two wherever possible. Both are searching for the ultimate legend-making trick, and as their battle of wits escalates, heartbreak and death lie in store.
Nolan's films have always won praise for their visuals, attention to detail and the performances he gets from his actors and his latest study of identity and deception scores highly in all three areas. In Bale and Jackman he has two great leads, perfectly cast as the rough-but-more-talented magician Borden and smoother uppercrust showman Angier. And they're backed by a strong supporting cast, from Caine as Angier's right-hand man to Johansson as the assistant who ends up working for both men and Bowie as the inventor Nikolai Tesla, whom Angier turns to in his bid to go down in history. Throughout the film is beautiful to look at and the insights into how magic tricks are constructed is brilliant.
The problem with 'The Prestige' is that while the plot has plenty of turns, it's not too hard to see a major part of the twist long before it happens. Even those of us who aren't world beaters at second guessing could see this one coming and in a film about sleight of hand that's an even bigger disappointment than usual. That said, Nolan is such a good director that his film remains engrossing and entertaining right to its defining image at the very end.
You'll still have questions afterwards, just not as many as Nolan had the power to conjure up.