THE PRESTIGE directed by Christopher Nolan, written by Christopher and Jonathan Nolan from Christopher Priest's novel, with Hugh Jackman, Christian Bale and Scarlett Johansson. 122 minutes. A Touchstone release. Opens Friday (October 20). For venues and times, see Movies, page 98. Rating: NNNN Rating: NNNN
The more I see of Hugh Jackman, the more I wonder how this elegant and rather diffident Aussie wound up playing the homicidal mutant Wolverine in the X-Men films instead of waiting around with all the other floppy-haired actors for Hugh Grant's leftovers?
He's got a couple of those in his filmography, by the way. His recent turn in Woody Allen's Scoop was Hugh Grant gone homicidal, and in Kate & Leopold he was leading man to Meg Ryan, so we all know what kind of part that was.
He's dapper again in The Prestige, where he plays an early-20th-century stage magician locked in a deadly rivalry with Christian Bale. Both worked as assistants to a famous illusionist until Bale's knot-tying may have led to the death of Jackman's wife.
Written by Christopher Nolan and his younger brother Jonathan, who also collaborated on Memento, The Prestige satisfies the director's fondness for doubles, twins and doppelgangers. Nolan (Batman Begins) did the most to exploit the duality of Batman and Bruce Wayne, so it's no surprise that he does the same with the polar oppositions of Jackman's Robert Angier and Bale's Alfred Borden, showman vs. artist, smooth vs. rough, upper vs. lower class. People will single out Bale's performance for the way he roughs his character down the class ladder, but we should note that whenever Jackman's not playing an Australian, he's doing an accent.
Scarlett Johansson is the woman caught between them, and let's just say that those late Victorian stage costumes certainly show her off to advantage. David Bowie turns up in a nifty cameo as the physicist Nikola Tesla, to whom Angier turns for help to duplicate Borden's most dazzling trick.
The Prestige has an awful title, which refers to the third part of a magic trick. Anyone can make something disappear; the hard part is making it reappear. It also has an extremely intricate plot and a jaw-dropping ending, though it's really about 20 minutes before the ending, when you realize the implications of a certain plot twist, that your jaw actually drops.