The Prestige (2006)

A pair of fin-de-siècle showman-magicians duel in their personal and professional lives in an appropriately tricksy thriller, directed with panache by Christopher Nolan.

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“in addition to the intellectual or philosophical excitement it engenders, The Prestige is gripping, suspenseful, mysterious, moving and often darkly funny.”

Philip French, The Observer, 2006

From his first film Following (1998) to Inception (2010), Christopher Nolan has retained a consistent interest in the interactions between memory, narrative and identity, as well as the opportunities for deceit arising from their occasional mismatches. Professional magicians, then, make an apt subject.

In The Prestige, Christian Bale and Hugh Jackman play rival masters of sleight of hand on the late 19th century stage, each competing to outdo the other both professionally and in their private lives. There’s much play with doubling – doubled characters, double takes, doubling back – and plenty of pleasing coups de théâtres, but the film is rather hamstrung by its long-windedness, which allows the audience time to look up its sleeve. The best magicians, after all, confound you, then vanish.

Other Nolan films – including Memento, Batman Begins and The Dark Knight – deal with similar concerns, while Richard Attenborough’s Magic (1978) offers a more disturbing take on stage trickery.

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