Which one do I like? The Illusionist or the Prestige? This is a difficult question – both films deal with specific subject matter (magic), yet both are very different, and highly entertaining. I recommend you check them out – maybe even back to back. In this review I’ll be mentioning both, but please search our database for an exclusive Illusionist review. I also must mention here that Hugh Jackman can do no wrong – he’s brilliant in everything he does – so I may be a little bit biased. Of course, after seeing The Machinist and American Psycho, I’m a pretty big fan of Christian Bale. How about a double bias for you? Here’s an even bigger confession – when I saw the cast of The Prestige, I almost forgot all about The Illusionist. By chance, I got to see the two films back to back, and if I only saw the former, my “magic” experience wouldn’t be nearly as complete.
Here’s where the films differ: The Illusionist deals with a man vs. establishment theme (a young, brilliant magician is doing a little subversion and mass education, along with pissing off the royals just because he can); on the other hand, The Prestige deals with a bitter rivalry between two magicians, who need to out-perform one another – because it’s their job, it’s their bread and milk. Without “the ultimate” trick, they go out of business and live out the rest of their lives in shame. So you would think the former film is more flamboyant. Wrong. The Illusionist shows real people, attempting to interact with a real (if a little removed) world. Whereas in The Prestige – both magicians go beyond the possible, beyond the accepted norms to find and deliver that ultimate trick. And yet they both are stuck in a big magic-world bubble, where certain things are commonplace, and other things simply cannot exist.
The Prestige is full of special effects, and even when a magic trick is explained (actually, the movie starts like that – a very brave opening) you still cannot believe just how cool that trick was. Lightnings, water submersions, sharp blades, hidden compartments – it’s a big production. And those tend to be expensive. That’s why the two magicians Robert Angier (Hugh Jackman) and Alfred Borden (Christian Bale) absolutely must have the ultimate trick – one that cannot be stolen or faked, one that will bring in audiences for months, assuring comfortable living and popularity. Cutter (Michael Caine) is a wise, patient assistant to Robert Angier, and knows that a rivalry, no matter how friendly, and playful will eventually turn sour.
The two men obsess over the mastery of illusion, and it is this obsession that is most fascinating about the film. Their friends fade, their assistants roll their eyes, but still, it’s a big business, and the show must go on. Once again, the conflict of art and commerce is very well covered, but from a different angle. There’s no subversion of the masses, no education session (like in the Illusionist). It’s just the two men, armed to teeth with trickery, smiling as they put on riskier shows, learn deadlier tricks, play with laws of physics, burrow deeper into their respective bubbles.
It’s a fascinating study of determination and obsession, plus tons of cool effects, and great support characters. Not quite as philosophical and introverted as The Illusionist, but still an entertaining film. Find it.