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The Science of Magic Deception and Misdirection Fuel Prestige

A magician never reveals his tricks — or so it is said. Thus, it stands to reason that the rivalry between magicians would be highly competitive, at the very least. In The Prestige>, Hugh Jackman and Christian Bale play men whose friendship is torn apart, turning them into rival performers. Set in late 1800s London, the story weaves illusion, misdirection and human drama together in the cutthroat world of magic. Rupert Angier (Hugh Jackman, right) celebrates the success of his new magic trick with his ingeneurThe Prestige. (Buena Vista Distribution, 2006) (Michael Caine) and his assistant (Scarlett Johansson) in the thriller.

Directed by: Christopher Nolan
Written by: Jonathan Nolan and Christopher Nolan, based on the novel by Christopher Priest
Starring: Hugh Jackman, Christian Bale, Michael Caine, Scarlett Johansson, Piper Perabo, Andy Serkis, and David Bowie.

Time passes and Angier discovers that Borden has a new trick called “The Transported Man” that allows him to pass seemingly instantaneously from one cabinet to another onstage. Angier becomes obsessed with discovering the secret of the trick. His desperation leads him to deception, kidnapping, and eventually a long trip overseas to visit Nikola Tesla, the inventor whom he believes helped Borden create his trick.

Directed by Christopher Nolan, who also helmed such films as Memento and Batman Begins, The Prestige is a beautiful looking film that moves with a fluid grace. The film’s one stumbling block is the backwards way it is told: Borden is reading the journal of Angier who is reading Borden’s journal. Signposts (a limp, a child’s age, the journals) help to place key moments in time throughout the film. Though this seems horribly complicated, the manner in which the story is told is essential to keep the audience (and the characters) guessing. The “turn,” as it is called in magic, must not come too soon.

Jackman and Bale both give outstanding performances. Though they engage in a bitter rivalry, the two actors do not overdo the emotions underlying the characters. Tempting though it might be, they do not inflate their villainy to melodrama proportions. Both characters are obsessive with their art and their secrets. At different points in the film, it is difficult to sympathize with these men.

Michael Caine is Cutter, Angier’s ingeneur — the man who creates the illusions. Caine is intriguing and adds clout to the film. His work has, for years, become a mark of greatness. As Cutter, he plays the wise sage, but also helps introduce the world of magic to us through a demonstration to a child.

Scarlett Johansson, in one pivotal scene, expressed so much through her eyes that I thought it was the greatest acting I had seen this year. On the other hand, seemed a bit out of place. She is pretty enough to be a magician’s assistant and she is certainly talented, but she seemed awkward in a period piece, as if she never quite adapted herself to her character’s time period.

The surprising performance, for me, was seeing David Bowie as the inventor Nikola Tesla. Underneath the makeup, it was impossible for me to see Bowie. His performance was top notch, conveying an air of mystery for a man who — historically speaking — is still a mystery to many people.

Like magic, film is an illusion that tricks a willing audience and leaves us filled with the wonder of possibilities. The final reveal of The Prestige was both surprising and expected — as any good trick should be.
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