I think it was Indiewire who ranked The Prestige as the best Christopher Nolan movie, an unusual pick as his Memento, Inception or more recent Dunkirk typically rank higher. Plus, The Prestige was Nolan’s film in-between Batman Begins and The Dark Knight. So even though this got critical praise, it was slightly forgotten in the wake of THE DARK KNIGHT, BIGGEST BLOCKBUSTER THAT DECADE.
I wouldn’t say The Prestige is Nolan’s best film (Interstellar!!!) but I do think it is his most challenging. It’s the movie where he officially established himself as a not just a talented, experimental auteur bot a true, bonafide masterful filmmaker. It’s obsessively detailed both in period and character development. There’s not a moment in the film where we don’t know what Christian Bale or Hugh Jackman is thinking or feeling, their every twitch and tear perfectly reflecting the illusions of their souls.
Which is even more the incredivle because Christian Bale plays two characters, an actinf balancinf act pulled off so effortlessly and effectively we don’t notice at all until Nolan explicitly tells us to notice. Bale isn’t just playing a magician, he’s playing two men trying to play one magician. And Jackman is excellent as well, a performer who despite magnificent successes can’t see past his own insecurity that his less-succesful rival might be better than him.
One of the film’s most oft quoted phrases is “obsession is a young man’s game.” That applies for Nolan as well, as this film could not have been made at this point in his career. It’s too straightforward, a period piece that’s far from fancy, his least challenging film from a technical or storytelling perspective but his best in character development. We know far less about what drives or annoys The Joker or Murph and Coop than we do about Bolton and Angier. It isn’t his best film but it is his most human.