A good magician never reveals his tricks, apparently. Once the audience knows how the girl gets out of the water tank, the act instantly loses its appeal. With this in mind, you have to tip your top hat to Christopher Nolan: The Prestige holds the audience in the palm of its hand, even when you already know exactly how the movie’s embattled rival Victorian magicians pulled off their most secret illusions – the massive twists at The Prestige’s dark core. Nolan’s stylish adaptation of Christopher Priest’s book is loaded with hidden depths and double-meanings which jump out at returning viewers, making this DVD a worthwhile purchase, even if the extras are skimpier than Scarlett Johansson’s corset. That she sportingly models said corset in the Making Of might make it a worthwhile purchase for some people anyway.
The Director’s Notebook – the sole extra on the disc – is a gushy amble through various aspects of the production, focusing mainly on the excellent atmospheric recreation of gas-lit Victorian London. But at least Nolan gets the opportunity to lay his cards on the table. He explains that he was fascinated by the idea of plot as illusion and The Prestige is a piece of cinematic sleight-of-hand that confirms the Brit director as one of craftiest storytellers working today. It also slots in neatly alongside his other movies: the chronologically disjointed Following; the back-to-front classic that is Memento; the woozy disorientation of Insomnia and Batman Begins, with its choppy cutting and muscular flashback sequences. This is a full house of pure narrative class.
Angry young men with identity issues, trapped in a cycle of violence and vengeance, is another of Nolan’s pet themes to get a workout here. Finessing the source novel into a tighter, tougher tale, he focuses on the duelling magicians and jettisons the unwieldy modern-day sequences that bookend the story. It’s a smart flourish, allowing Hugh Jackman and Christian Bale plenty of elbow room to fully inhabit their roles as, respectively, Rupert Angier and Alfred Borden – the former blessed with limited ability but charisma to burn, the latter technically brilliant but dull as dishwater.
Intriguingly, both characters grow darker and more complex as the plot repeatedly shuffles its pack. The same can’t be said for The Prestige’s female protagonists – Johansson’s ‘double-agent’ assistant, a doomed Piper Perabo and face-to-watch Rebecca Hall as Borden’s broken-hearted wife – as they skulk in the wings. Plot aids, magicians’ assistants... call them what you will, they are illusions of characters (even if the casting of Johansson, arguably the most famous person in the movie, is a bit of canny Hollywood misdirection).
The Prestige is a strong movie and arguably smarter than Batman Begins. But as a follow-up to that explosive resurrection of the Caped Crusader, it can’t help but feel a touch low key: Borden and Angier are distant, while a flurry of reveals serves to spin the head rather than stir the heart.
But never mind the niggles. The Prestige is again evidence that few filmmakers deserve to share a stage with Nolan. Roll on The Dark Knight.