The Prestige

SOMETHING UP HIS SLEEVE Caine, left, teaches Jackman an old trick.
SOMETHING UP HIS SLEEVE Caine, left, teaches Jackman an old trick.

Time Out says

The illusionist’s credo states that every great magic trick consists of three acts, and like any good student of theatrical deception, Christopher Nolan structures his own sleight-of-hand feat accordingly. First, according to his film’s father figure (Caine), there’s “the Pledge”: Audiences are shown something commonplace, such as two performers vying for the top-dog spot in turn-of-the-20th-century London. One is an unhinged obsessive (Bale), the other merely a dedicated professional (Jackman). A rivalry involving violence, sabotage and excessive amounts of fake facial hair escalates as both of their profiles rise to marquee-level status.

After the setup comes “the Turn”: Bale’s superior artist has designed a perfect trick called “the Transporting Man,” and Jackman’s merely adequate magus must find out how he does it. This means enlisting a shapely assistant (Johansson) as a mole and hiring Nikola Tesla (creepily played by David Bowie as the Inventor Who Fell to Earth) to engineer something even better.

Ironically, it’s the payoff act—“the Prestige”—in which the film stumbles and falls. Which is a pity, as up until then, the director has been so skillful at using the austere cinematography of Wally Pfister (Batman Begins) and his own facility for keeping us rubes distracted. But the ta-da is simply too outlandish, and the film’s cleverness can’t sustain what requires an Olympian suspension of disbelief. The who’s-bilking-whom mind games make for compelling fun, but once the presto moment of The Prestige is revealed, you’re left with nothing but shattered illusions. (Opens Fri; Click here for venues.) — David Fear



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