Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBB.5.
USA/United Kingdom, 2006. Touchstone Pictures, Warner Bros., Newmarket Productions, Syncopy. Screenplay by Christopher Nolan, Jonathan Nolan, based on the novel by Christopher Priest. Cinematography by Wally Pfister. Produced by Christopher Nolan, Aaron Ryder, Emma Thomas. Music by David Julyan. Production Design by Nathan Crowley. Costume Design by Joan Bergin. Film Editing by Lee Smith. Academy Awards 2006. Online Film Critics Awards 2006.
The filmmakers have just as much fun pulling sleight-of-hand tricks on the audience as their characters do on stage in this vibrant Victorian drama that encompasses mystery and romance into its tale of rival magicians. Christian Bale and Hugh Jackman are both strong as two magicians who meet while working for a minor ham (Ricky Jay) and are parted by tragic circumstance, setting off a chain of events that see them competing for top place in the arena of London spectacle. The film actually begins with a murder trial that has Bale imprisoned for allegedly killing Jackman, though flashbacks (and flashbacks within flashbacks that thanks to Christopher Nolan’s strong direction never becoming too confusing) reveal their separate stories, including the fascinating investigation of a scientist (David Bowie as Nikola Tesla) who creates a machine that purports to perform actual magic. It’s absorbing viewing, but it isn’t as mesmerizing as it wants to be; somehow the film, which includes great supporting performances by Michael Caine and Scarlett Johansson, beautiful cinematography by Wally Pfister and sumptuous period detail, is never more than the sum of its parts. It is, however, a proud display of the Nolan brothers’ commitment to taking the mind on increasingly twisted journeys that began with their masterful Memento.