THE PRESTIGE- Christian Bale, Hugh Jackman, Michael Caine, Scarlet Johansson
THE ILLUSIONIST- Edward Norton, Paul Giamatti, Jessica Biel, Rufus Sewell
Two movies, two stories, one theme. Both Prestige and Illusionist, set in the early twentieth century, explore the world of stage magicians and the people behind the tricks we love to see.
The Prestige traces the rivalry between Robert Angier (Jackman) and Alfred Borden (Bale), assistants of the same magician, who go their separate ways after an accident involving Borden kills Angier's wife. Borden becomes 'The Professor' and Angier 'The Great Danton', each desirous of upstaging the other. Borden's new trick 'The Transported Man' astonishes Angier, who first tries to duplicate it, then is fixated about learning the true secret. Themes of obsession, sacrifice and secrecy interweave the story, building up to a truly awesome climax. The narrative moves fluidly back and forth in time, with mesmerizing music complementing the story. Though Scarlet Johannson is more eye-candy than anything else, Jackman is great as the jealous, obsessive magician, but Bale steals the show, with his classic brooding act.
The Illusionist begins with the secret affair between the Duchess Sophie (Biel) and Edward Eisenheim (Norton). Separated due to their difference in position, they meet years later, when Eisenheim is a famous illusionist, and Sophie engaged to marry the Crown Prince (Sewell). Their ensuing affair has tragic consequences owing to the ruthless Prince's jealousy, and Inspector Uhl (Giamatti) brought in to investigate the matter. The storytelling is fantastic, with superbly shot scenes which build to a shocking crescendo. Norton is perfect as the inscrutable magician, and I really want to see more of him on screen.
Adapted from books, both these movies give a sneak-peek into the magician's world, and their Victorian setting definitely adds to the story. They are both richly textured, alluring and suspenseful, and the twists and turns of the tale lead up to a mind-blowing finish. In my book, Prestige wins by a whisker, not because of anything missing in Illusionist, but because I am a huge Christian Bale fan. So, grab a DVD or book your place in front of the TV the next time either movie is shown. Abracadabra!!