Magicians have already been covered rather effectively in the film “The Illusionist” released earlier this year, but the subject is tackled once again in “The Prestige,” a film with plenty of tricks up its sleeve.
Anchored by a strong cast, “The Prestige” features strong direction from Christopher Nolan (“Memento,” “Batman Begins”) and a story by Nolan that has as many twists and turns as the profession it features.
The film follows Alfred Borden (Christian Bale) and Robert Angier (Hugh Jackman), rival magicians in turn-of-the-century London who battle each other for supremacy in their craft.
When Alfred is able to pull off a trick that amazes even Robert, Robert begins a desperate quest to learn Alfred's secret.
Bale and Jackman are both superb in their respective roles, with Jackman showing a surprising departure from his action roles.
The supporting cast includes solid work from Scarlett Johansson as the woman caught in the middle of the magicians' rivalry, Michael Caine as the mentor to both men, and David Bowie as a scientist Robert seeks out to help come up with a trick that will top Alfred.
The screenplay (co-written by Nolan and his brother, Jonathan) is very deliberate, but it is necessary to set up the final stages of the film, where the story shifts and turns with some rather ingenious plot twists.
And that story is enhanced by Nolan's sharp direction. Every shot has a purpose - a small piece of a puzzle - and each helps add up to the final resolution.
“The Prestige” does require a slight leap of faith (take it for what it is, and try not to overanalyze the end result), but the journey is so entertaining, it is a leap well worth taking.
DVD dandy of the week
This week's dandy is “Mission: Impossible III” (B), a fun thrill-ride that is entertaining - even if it is somewhat unbelievable.
Director J.J. Abrams (a creator of the television series “Alias” and “Lost”) stages one impressive action sequence after another, giving fans of the franchise exactly what they would expect.
Tom Cruise returns as Ethan Hunt. As the film opens, Hunt is inactive - confined to serving as a trainer for potential IMF agents - and settling down with a young nurse named Julia (Michelle Monaghan).
Hunt is eventually forced back into action when one of his trainees is captured by Owen Davian, a sadistic arms dealer played by Philip Seymour Hoffman. When the mission doesn't go as planned, Hunt has no choice but to track Davian down - especially after Davian makes it personal by targeting Julia.
Cruise has always proven to be a reliable action hero, and he is definitely in his element here.
Hoffman is one of my favorite actors, so it is a lot of fun to see him as the villain. I just wish Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci had given the character a little more screen time and spent a bit less of the film on Hunt's romantic life.
There are several other solid performers - including Ving Rhames, Billy Crudup and Laurence Fishburne - but what really makes “M:I:III” go is its action sequences. Abrams stages two great set pieces - a daring escape by Davian on a bridge and the rescue of Hunt's former pupil - that are the heart and soul of the film. The scenes are so intense and so much fun that a pretty preposterous finale ends up a bit easier to take.
“Mission: Impossible III” performed below expectations, mostly due to backlash from Cruise's off-screen and well-publicized antics, but it is a solid action movie that deserves a second chance on DVD.
“Mission: Impossible III” is rated PG-13 for intense sequences of violence and is available on DVD on Monday.
- Movie reviewer Micheal Compton, whose own “magic touch” begins and ends at the controller of his Playstation 2, can be reached for comments, questions or spiritual guidance by e-mailing email@example.com