The Prestige is a serious, well made thriller directed by Christopher Nolan. It’s well shot and well acted. It received Oscar nominations for art direction and cinematography. It has plenty of well-known stars including Hugh Jackman, Christian Bale, Michael Caine, Scarlett Johansson, Rebecca Hall and also Andy Serkis and, of course, David Bowie. Oddly (or not), other than Bowie, each of these other actors has appeared in superhero movies— Jackman is Wolverine in the X-Men movies, Bale is Batman in three movies directed by Nolan (and also appeared as a villain in a Marvel movie); Caine is Batman’s butler, Alfred in the same movies, Johansson is Black Widow, Serkis is Klaw in multiple Marvel films. Unlike the others, Hall appeared only once as her character, Maya Hansen, one of the villains in Iron Man III (though she played a recurring character in the recent Godzilla movies). I mention all this because these actors bring with them a set of expectations about what they’d all do together, and although I like The Prestige, they kinda don’t live up to expectations.
The movie is really about an obsessive rivalry. The rivals are two Victorian magicians portrayed by Jackman and Bale. Both take increasingly extreme measures to outperform the other and, well, things don’t turn out great. Thrown into the mix is a science fiction element— Jackman’s character meets a fictionalized Nikola Tesla who gives him a device that the real life Tesla never actually made. Nobody made it— it’s science fiction (or, as I think the movie wants us to think, magic).
For all the many good aspects of the movie, I find the superhero actors, the science fiction element and the fictionalized Tesla to be distracting from an otherwise compelling drama about a relatable human story. None of these aspects help advance the storyline or set up dynamics that couldn’t have been arrived at through other means.
I’m not sure, for instance, what basing the Tesla character on a historic figure adds to the story. The same character with a made-up a different name would have provided the same function in the movie without raising the question of what we’re supposed to get out of the character being Tesla (there might have been more relevance in the book that the movie was based on, but I didn’t read the book).
Bowie plays his part well, but even here there’s a distraction — it’s his mustache. The real Tesla had a mustache, so Bowie’s portrayal of Tesla also wore a mustache. It just looks a little weird. Other than that, Bowie’s presence and voice provide the requisite air of mystery and other-worldliness. It’s not a big role, but it’s memorable. I’d say it’s a good use of Bowie.
Despite these criticisms, I very much liked the movie. Its just that everyone involved has done something even better.
Rating: 3 out of Four Bowies
👩🏻🎤🧑🎤👨🎤👩🏿🎤 Four Bowie movies reviewed thus far
👩🏻🎤🧑🎤👨🎤 Three Bowie movies
The Prestige (2006)
👩🏻🎤🧑🎤 Two Bowie movies
Into the Night (1985)
👩🏻🎤 One Bowie movies
Hooked to the Silver Screen is my series of commentaries about movies in which Bowie appeared. The name of the series comes from a line in the song, “Life on Mars.”