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Prestige, The (DVD Review)

11 Feb, 2007 By: John Latchem

Street 2/20/07
Box Office $53.1 million
$29.99 DVD, $34.99 Blu-ray
Rated ‘PG-13' for violence and disturbing images.
Stars Hugh Jackman, Christian Bale, Michael Caine, Piper Perabo, Scarlett Johansson, David Bowie, Andy Serkis, Roger Rees.

This is a perfect film for DVD. After its secrets are revealed, it really needs to be seen again. It's a completely different movie the second time through. Knowing the clues in no way diminishes the experience, and in some ways the newfound context enhances certain scenes. Fans of the methodology of stage magic won't want to miss it.

Director Christopher Nolan, whose Memento proved he's no stranger to time-bending narratives, organizes the movie with a double flashback, as two rivals read each other's journal. While this could lend itself to confusion, it is actually ideal in preserving the mystery and heightening curiosity. This sets the The Prestige apart from similar fare such as The Illusionist, which is more a straightforward period romantic drama, though it too is not without its twists.

The film, based on a Christopher Priest novel, is very much a tragedy, yet this fact remains hidden like so many magicians' secrets.

Angiers (Jackman) and Borden (Bale), are natural foils, locked in a years-long professional rivalry in Victorian England. Borden has imagination, but can't sell it. Angiers is a natural showman but lacks insight and creativity. There is an underlying sadness in knowing that had they been able to work together they may have achieved their every dream.

Instead, Angiers blames Borden for his wife's drowning during a performance, and resents Borden for carrying on with a family and career of his own. The rivals take turns sabotaging each other's acts, their very lives dominated by their art.

Angiers sets his goal as improving upon Borden's own master illusion. Never satisfied with the imitation, he strives to understand the secret, which he believes lies with famed inventor Nikola Tesla (Bowie), himself trapped in a rivalry with Thomas Edison. Tesla introduces an element of sci-fi mysticism that, while appropriate for the film's themes, mars a tale otherwise grounded in realism.

Obsession, revenge and sacrifice win out. Philosophers could have a field day with how the film toys with the nature of identity. Richness of theme, parallel plot construction and recurring motifs make the film ideal for dissection in film-school classes. Some featurettes, while limited in scope, provide more fodder, although a commentary is sorely missing.

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