Much was expected of the Nolan brothers with 2006’s The Prestige. After all, the pair had already churned out classics such as Memento and Batman Begins, setting up the stage for their next great outing. To make this even better, this film featured Wolverine versus Batman, as well as a brilliant supporting cast which included, inexplicably, David Bowie. However, when it was released last November next to no-one saw it, and after a week it sunk without a trace. But why?
Lack of publicity, hard-to-describe plot, slow-moving story; you can choose whatever reason you like, but my point is don’t let these things stop you watching this film at any cost, as it’s an under loved gem, following two rival magicians (Bale and Jackman) as they turn from friends to deadly rivals, with tragic consequences. It sounds dull, I admit, but you’ll forgive me after you’ve watched this movie as there is much that could so easily be given away in a film review, spoiling the whole experience. Indeed, the first time you watch it is an utter mind-trip, myself spending most of the time pre-empting plot twists (of which there are numerous) and trying to penetrate Bowie’s accent.
However, despite this film revolving, perhaps, around a number of key mysteries and reveals, a second viewing shows it to be something quite extraordinary; like an illusionist, it playfully keeps you guessing at its little secrets by offering glimpses into what is truly going on without giving the game away, small details which at first seemed odd or insignificant suddenly becoming clear, prompting an internal bravo at how smart a film this is.
But don’t let it seem like this is a mere novelty, worth watching just for absurd plot-flips and musicians-turned-actors; no, under the surface lies a fantastically-crafted tale of obsession and bitter rivalry, played fantastically by the ensemble cast. Bane is brilliant as a Bob Hoskins-aping cockney trickster, however Jackson is somewhat less impressive as his American rival (although it doesn’t help that his character is never as intricately-carved as Bales’). Caines and Serkis provide impressive support, giving the film its emotional core, however Johansson’s character drifts in and out of the narrative, never really given much to do and prone to loitering around the side of the screen for much of the running time.
But I digress; this is a riveting and innovative piece from a man whose back-catalogue has just witnessed the addition of another classic, and is a film everyone should see at least once. It’s just a shame that the DVD sports a notable lack of special features, perhaps suggesting the studio’s lack of confidence in a film which is so much smaller and personal than the budget-bloated Batman Begins (even the cover art offends my eyes, amazingly being able to capture exactly zero of the feel of the film. Quite remarkable)
But, whatever you do, keep it to yourself; remember the bird cage…