Once partners in a stage act for another magician, Robert Angier (Hugh Jackman) and Alfred Borden (Christian Bale) have turned into bitter rivals with acts of their own following the death of Angier’s wife, Julia (Piper Perabo). As independent magicians, both pursuing a desire to be the best in Britain and to have the better trick, this rivalry turns dangerous as the men will stop at nothing to have the final word.
Along the way, the ultimate illusion is crafted, known as “The Transported Man,” and it is first performed by Borden. What happens is simple enough; Borden enters one door and comes out another. But what is not so readily revealed is how it is done. With the help of an engineer, John Cutter (Michael Caine), Angier steals the act and improves on it, using his skills as a better showman to give it more flair for audiences. How the act is created, and Angier’s quest to get it done, is the other half of this film that takes him halfway across the world to Colorado.
Nikola Tesla (David Bowie) is the other half. His work in electricity and alternating currents, far in remoteness of early 20th century Colorado, inspires Robert Angier to seek him out — even if Angier does not know what it is that he is really after or what Tesla is doing. Nonetheless, Angier comes away from his interactions with the scientist and futurist satisfied and it is what unfolded here that will drive the rest of the film until the very last frame.
The rivalry between the characters portrayed by Jackman and Bale keeps the story at a constant catapult toward the end, as each twist and reveal provides more context. Caine’s involvement and support also lends some credibility, as he is often used as a voice of reason and skepticism throughout the antics that are played by the leads.
Personally, as an avid fan of the singer, David Bowie’s presence is the cherry on top. While he is only in some of the film with a few scenes, and I would have loved to see more of him, Bowie was able to bring character and gravitas to his role as Nikola Tesla. He set himself apart from the rest of the cast.
Helping The Prestige is an added layer of fun and mystery. As a story about magicians and the secret behind the trick, there are many ways to watch the film and, when everything comes together and the reveal is made, it shines it in a whole new light. Once you understand what is happening, you start to replay the film in your mind and how each action and event plays out the way it does.
The Prestige is one of Christopher Nolan’s quieter projects and, because of its smaller scale and confined casting, the film works incredibly well and it leaves a lasting impact. This is one of Nolan’s better and more impressive stories.