To describe a film as “formulaic” would normally be considered a great insult – but I think The Prestige earns it. The film follows its very own formula, established by Michael Caine in the opening moments: act one is “The Pledge”, in which the magician, or film-maker, shows us something ordinary. The Prestige seems, at first, ordinary. An entertainment-industry rivalry-thriller. But, similar to the tricks within its fiction, The Prestige quickly shows us “The Turn”, and ultimately, “The Prestige”. And we’re left, much like a 19th century crowd at a magic show, reeling.
And, like in the film, Christian Bale steals the show. I’ve nothing against Hugh Jackman (when he’s not being overshadowed by Jake Gyllenhaal), but it’s Bale’s nuanced approach to a two-for-one package-deal character that elevates himself above anything else I’ve seen him in. Michael Caine is also there, as Alfred/himself. Because Christopher Nolan.
Not to pile on the clichéd similes, but The Prestige is executed like a magic trick. Every new viewing does nothing to detract from the thrill of the last, as there is so much to harvest from its rich story. Watch it for clues. Watch it for the brilliant intertwining of Angier’s and Borden’s lives. Watch it for the meta-commentary on storytelling, as I just have for the first time. I don’t doubt there’s more to this trick, and I look forward to trying to find it. But of course, I’m not really looking. I don’t want to know how Nolan does it.