The Prestige (Christopher Nolan, 2006)
Christopher Nolan's movies are like magicians' tricks. It all sounds enchanting on paper, and put into action by the able hands of Nolan, looks undeniably spectacular. Like magic tricks, once the secrets have been revealed, the films lose its novelty and hence, are almost weaker upon a second serving, if not totally unwatchable. Nolan's films also detail anti-heroes with near maniacal obsessions. Memento (2000) has the man afflicted with short term memory loss who is obsessed in finding out what happened to him. Nolan's remake of Insomnia (2002) has the police officer who is also obsessed in solving a crime to the point of losing his sleep. Batman Begins (2005) portrays the iconic superhero as an individual driven by angst and an encompassing obsession to rid Gotham of criminal elements.
The Prestige also details characters driven by obsession. Two competing magicians: Angier (Hugh Jackman) and Borden (Christian Bale) are bent on outdoing each other's magic performances. It is clear that Borden is the better magician especially when he performs a magic trick that involves him teleporting from one cabinet to the other. Angier is bent on discovering the secret to the teleportation, sending his beautiful assistant (Scarlett Johansson) to try and woo Borden in trusting her the vital secrets of the magic trick.
The duo's stiff competition does provide for momentary entertainment. When Borden accidentally drowns Borden's wife in one magic trick, Angier repays Borden by sabotaging his magic trick involving a gun, bullets, and the magician's two fingers. Borden then repays the act by completely ruining Angier's opening night, and so on, and so forth. The competition transforms into an unhealthy obsession of ruination, which leads Borden to travel to America to seek out scientist Tesla (David Bowie) to provide for him the ultimate machine that will enable him to perform the world's best magic trick.
The magic performances themselves are not very expertly shot. You take the performances as it is: cinematic works made possible by the crafty hands of editors and cinematographers. The fact that cinema has enabled far greater fantasies into celluloid makes the magic tricks of The Prestige pale in comparison, and Nolan seems to acknowledge the fact that these tricks aren't sources of spectacle but mere stuffings for his grand master plan. Nolan could've dazzled us a bit more --- infused the Victorian-age setting with richer and more imaginative visual addendum instead of draping the film like an empty theater set for a uni-directional narrative that is strictly bent on wowing premised on what is hoped to be a rewarding ending. Well, the ending isn't particularly satisfying, especially when pound after pound of set-up has been placed upon its weak little shoulders.
The Prestige ventures uncomfortably into sci-fi territory with the introduction of Tesla's erstwhile competition against an off-screen Edison. I thought that would've been a better film instead of detailing the trivial tribulations of two competing magicians who survive in performing pieces grounded on cheap tricks and idiotic revelations. Nolan's film seems to be devoid of any real human emotions. Cutter (Michael Caine), the magician's crafty engineer and confidante, seems to be the moralistic middle ground in the petty battle. Olivia, and Borden's wife and daughter, are mere pawns in the two magicians' chess game. None of these characters, not even the two main characters, carry much emotional weight --- they're just there to serve Nolan's purpose, which basically does not differ from anything he's done ever since.