The Prestige (2006)
Though helmed by the cinematic creativity of Christopher Nolan and dealing with highly interesting topics ranging from magic and trickery to science and sci-fi, The Prestige ultimately puts itself in a tough predicament by implicitly promising to deliver "the prestige" itself. In the final act, the film corners itself, not necessarily to the point that it makes its narrative incoherent, but in a way that it excessively showcases the "secrets" it has desperately tried to conceal and dodge in the past two hours.
With that in mind, The Prestige comes off as less noble and less subtle than its thematic contemporary peer, The Illusionist. But for long stretches of its running-time, Nolan's film is a tight, entertaining and highly suspenseful affair. It is not so much about magic and trickery per se as it is a tale - and a good one - of bitter rivalry. The two leads are both wonderfully industrious and living their obsessions. It's great to see the tormentingly expressive Christian Bale with a British accent again. It had been a while. And Hugh Jackman's tortured Angier is a good match. Still though, neither Angier or Borden learn anything during their quests. There's no awakening, no new comprehension about themselves. It makes the ending - that staged, meticulous ending - not very rewarding after all. It doesn't give neither the viewer nor the characters any higher learning about their situation or life in general. The scene is too cold to work as a final liberator.
There are both interesting twists and aspects to the plot that can make you philosophize. And if you're lucky, you might not feel tricked. As a moral investigation and a study of mechanics and science, The Prestige is thoroughly absorbing. There's a magnificent segment centered around the amazing Nikola Tesla (played with insight by David Bowie) which is potentially more interesting than the film allows it to become. Of course it's not a factual rendition, but close enough enough to be satisfactory.
The Prestige has an engaging ability that shouldn't be undermined. It will keep you constantly interested, and it activates the brain on several levels. The film is so rich, that it just makes it more disappointing that we're phased out of the core by filmmakers wanting to be clever. Mr. Nolan, who usually seems to understand his viewer so well, here ultimately underestimates him a tad.