Adam Cook’s review published on Letterboxd:
After the disappointment of The Dark Knight Rises I wanted to revisit Nolan at his best. Whilst the film’s narrative structure is fragmented, much like the elusive puzzle at the heart of the story, it is deftly plotted where each component is revealed to fit neatly together and create a satisfying whole. The brilliance of the film is that it reveals everything to the audience at the very beginning. It tells you exactly how the trick is achieved early on, you just need to be paying attention. Yet, despite knowing how every twist and turn will play out the film still rewards repeated viewings which is very rare for this type of film. The twists are never cheap, they are always logical and intrinsic to the story, something that many modern could learn from.
Constructed just like the magic tricks used in the film, The Prestige is a joy working out its sleight of hand and clever form yet Nolan is not just interested in structure alone. The film manages to find the rare balance between character and plot. Whilst the intricate and tricksy plot is what pulls the audience in everything is driven by the characters. They are not merely along for the ride but it is their obsessions and rivalries that motivate every turn in the slippery story. In his last two films, Nolan’s characters have been lost amongst obfuscated plotting yet The Prestige proves that he is able to handle both and it is a much more emotionally rewarding experience as a result.
Unlike many period-set films, the movie still feels very modern yet uses the Victorian location to great effect. The performances are theatrical but perfectly in keeping with the world the characters inhabit. It probably contains my favourite Hugh Jackman turn as a man hellbent on revenge whilst Bale’s broad performance actually makes perfect sense when you understand his character and his lifelong commitment to his craft. Michael Caine is predictably brilliant and, whilst he isn’t a great actor, David Bowie is perfect for the role of Nikola Tesla. Although undoubtedly beautiful, Scarlett Johansson is definitely the weak link in the cast. Not only is her character a little wasted she also struggles under the weight of delivering a convincing English accent.
Not only is this Christopher Nolan’s best film but it is arguably his most beautiful too. Pfister’s cinematography is stunning whether it is capturing the eerie beauty of the field of electric light bulbs or the majesty of the stage-bound magic tricks. The production design is equally accomplished. This is a world that feels real and lived-in with every costume choice and prop placement impeccably judged.
The Prestige is a smart and brilliantly crafted thriller that is even more enjoyable when you know how the trick is achieved.