Thought it would make sense to review some of Christopher Nolan’s best films in preparation for Dunkirk this July. I’ve already done Interstellar, though, I’m tempted to do an update. You can expect the Dark Knight Trilogy to show up soon, as well as Inception, but let’s begin with one of his more overlooked projects. This magic-based mystery thriller was able to triple its $40 million budget after its premiere October of 2006. Released just after Batman Begins, it also marks a rare time when Nolan adapted a pre-existing material, as it was based on the novel by Christopher Priest. Set in 1890’s London, the incredibly complex story follows two magicians, Robert Angier and Alfred Borden, who compete with each other to create the greatest stage illusion imaginable. Their game of one-upmanship turns into a series of tragedies. Of course, this being a film by Christopher Nolan, the PG-13 rated plot is much more involved and layered than that, and some really mind-bending stuff happens. Hugh Jackman is the real star of this film as Robert Angier, with all the charisma and showmanship that most real-life magicians lack. The things that happen to him are very sad and damaging. And as he goes down the path of competition, he begins to lose sight of what got him on that path to start. Continuing their relationship with the director, Michael Caine and Christian Bale are fabulous in their roles. Unlike many of his other films, Bale is actually allowed to retain his British accent, which added more heft to his emotional punch. Caine, meanwhile, plays a disconnected mentor who essentially works as a mediator between the two magicians. His wisdom is reminiscent of Alfred Pennyworth from the Dark Knight Trilogy, as he seems to be the one person who wants both of these men to settle their feud. The strong supporting cast includes Scarlett Johannson, Piper Perabo, Rebecca Hall, Ricky Jay, a rare live-action stint from Andy Serkis, and the late musician David Bowie. Bowie is particularly enigmatic as a man with many secrets on how to make a show even more dazzling than it already is. But he doesn’t use magic, he uses science. To go any further into any of these actors’ characters would spoil the plot. One of the things Nolan is known for is how all of his films are not what they initially appear to be. For example, his first directorial outing Following looked like a cheap student film, (And it kind of was) but turned out to be a focused and engaging mystery thriller. With The Prestige, he crafts a compelling narrative out of a subject that shouldn’t be that interesting; stage magicians. Through his trademark storytelling techniques, the story doesn’t initially progress in chronological order and jumps around in time. This makes the film even more intriguing and keeps the audience guessing from start to finish. Another trademark of Nolan’s is how practical and technically brilliant his films are. The production and costume designs are all top-notch and help it feel like a gritty and lived-in 1890’s London. When Borden or Angiers are on-stage, it feels as if we are actually watching a magic show unfold before our eyes. And the visuals are nice as well. In one scene, Angiers is standing in the middle of a snowy ridge when all of a sudden, these fluorescent lights come out. It added more beauty, atmosphere, and mystique to the 130 minute-long picture, topped by Wally Pfister’s surreal camera work. As pretty much the last film before Nolan’s long-term collaboration with Hans Zimmer, the musical score in The Prestige is provided by David Julyan. It is often consisting of eery synthesizers building up in a crescendo, punctuated by a shocking set of strings in revealing moments. And there are many. Holy mother of God, there are revealing moments. Like a traditional magic show, the film is broken up into three intertwined acts. The first two are impressive feats of visual flair and emotionally engaging performances. But in the final act, a jaw-dropping plot twist is thrown in to pull the rug from underneath the audience in a way that is both shocking and brilliantly believable. Were you watching closely? I was, and it worked. Without giving away anything, the twist also brought to light the philosophical themes hidden just beneath the crust. Because these two characters are neck-and-neck, they often give in to their inner ambitions and obsession. That obession to become the greatest at their profession leads to many bad outcomes and ultimately makes them less humane. To put it in the words of David Bowie’s character, “You’re familiar with the phrase ‘man’s reach exceeds his grasp?’ It’s a lie; man’s grasp exceeds his nerve.” If you love the type of movies that make you think about the story and maybe even tempt you to watch it again to make sure you didn’t miss anything, you need not look any further than The Prestige. It blends seamless production and technical merits and fantastic performance with breathtaking precision. This is a very underrated piece of humanistic filmmaking that deserves all the recognition as Christopher Nolan’s other endeavors have endured.