Of all of Christopher Nolan’s film, The Prestige is still likely the most overlooked film in his catalogue. While Memento, The Dark Knight Trilogy, and Inception get most of the praise from Nolan fans, The Prestige is often left out and that’s a shame, because it’s arguably one of his very best films.
I think The Prestige came out at a time when people weren’t yet as familiar with who Christopher Nolan was, and had likely only really seen his Batman film, Batman Begins. I don’t think Nolan really rose to fame and high, high praise until the summer of 2008 when he released The Dark Knight, and make everyone, even non-film fans take notice.
So, what is so great about The Prestige? Lots of things really, but I’ll start with it’s plot. It’s about dueling magicians in the late 1800s, who at first were working partners, but then a tragic accident happened, and it split the two men, played by Hugh Jackman (as Robert Angier) and Christian Bale (as Alfred Borden). The two become so mad with each other that during solo magic performances, they successfully sabotage each other’s act.
The woman caught in the middle of all this is Scarlett Johansson (as Olivia Wenscombe) who is first cast to infiltrate Alfred and get him to reveal his secret to his famous “Transporting Man” trick. The film is surrounded by other great actors/characters, such as Michael Caine (as John Cutter) and the late David Bowie (as Nikola Tesla). Nikola Tesla was a real person, who was famous as a scientist and inventor, and was crucial to helping invent modern electricity.
The film is great also because the production design and cinematography are incredible. The film has a grainy washed out look that I think lends itself nicely to the story. I mean, the real centerpiece of the film is the magic tricks and the twists and turns that the film brings the viewer on.
The film was nominated for 2 Oscars, Best Cinematography for Wally Pfister, and Best Art Direction for Nathan Crowley (art director) and Julie Ochipinti (set decorator). Sadly, the film was over looked for nominations for Best Picture, Best Director for Christopher Nolan, Best Film Editing for Lee Smith, and Best Costume Design for Joan Bergin. I believe that if 2006 worked the way the Oscar nominations now operate, it would have gotten a Best Picture nomination I’m sure.
In the 12 years since the film was released, it has grown in respect from the film fans and even the critics. I think years from now it will be considered one of Nolan’s best films, and rightly so. To quote John Cutter:
“every film consists of three parts, or acts. The first part is called the Pledge. The director shows you something ordinary. The second act is called the Turn. The director takes the ordinary something and makes it into something extraordinary. But you wouldn’t clap yet, because making something disappear isn’t enough. You have to bring it back.”