(… although technically that should be (4), since my entry on The Departed was also part of this tightly plotted, carefully laid out series. Ah well.)
Christopher Nolan made an impression on me with his second film, Memento, which I thought clever, affecting and fascinating. Insomnia, his follow-up, didn’t do much for me, well crafted and acted tough as it was. It didn’t have the conviction of the Norwegian original, sitting uncomfortably between Hollywood thriller and harsh morality play.
The Prestige is probably Nolan’s best film since Memento. His reboot of the Batman franchise was good and intelligent, but its plot was predictable. The Prestige, a film about 2+ rival magicians at the turn of the century is at least as cleverly conceived and told as his amnesia thriller. Judging from the plot of the original novel (as given on Wikipedia), the film adaptation has been changed quite a bit, so it’s all the more surprising and impressive to find such an intricately structured, yet elegantly executed plot in the movie.
What struck me most was Nolan’s witty use of repeated motifs that, in a second viewing, might look like obvious hints at the twists in the movie. Every element is carefully laid out, and the film plays fair, yet when the viewer thinks he’s figured it out and smugly leans back, chances are he’ll realise half an hour later that he’s underestimated Nolan’s Chinese box.
And apart from The Prestige‘s cleverness (which has a slightly arch quality to it, just as some of the voiceovers), there’s something admirably goofy about casting David Bowie as an aging Nicholas Tesla, perhaps the truest magician of the piece yet the least mysterious, least self-dramatising character in the film.