I saw The Prestige a few days ago, which itself is a somewhat momentous event because I seldom see movies in the theater unless: 1) I honestly can't stand to wait to see it, and/or 2) the movie obviously benefits from huge screen and sound. The Prestige falls in category 1, although it has a handful of impressive scenes that fit 2. The three Lord of the Rings movies, in contrast, were off the scale in both categories--just had to see those in theaters. In the case of the Prestige, the combination of a reunion between some of the people behind Batman Begins, a string of intriguing previews/ads explaining the movie concept, and a set of other people who are fun to watch on screen, Hugh Jackman and Scarlett Johansen and David Bowie and Andy Serkis, proved too irrestible.
All things considered, the Prestige is the most subdued movie I've seen in a while, if you don't count Proof, which was a DVD rental for me. This movie has deaths and injuries, but each one is staggered throughout the movie, so the usual desensitization doesn't occur. These dueling magicians don't have it out in some dark alley, at least not for a long time; they're after public embarrasment, complete career ruination, and eye-for-eye retribution. Although the two share a passion for glory and fame, they have different ways of pursuing it. Minor characters get dragged into the story as pawns, including an astoundingly eccentric Tesla, but thankfully the minors also have their own independent agendas. Michael Caine's character tries to lend some levelheadedness to those around him, but his effort is squandered. Everyone schemes and deceives so much that, fittingly enough for a movie about magicians, it's hard to tell when anyone is telling the truth.
They do tell skilled half-truths. The movie's surprises, praised and denounced by critics, don't happen like deus ex machina, but come after oft-repeated clues. The clues are important, because otherwise the solutions at the end would seem like cheats. I mostly figured out what was happening before the big reveals, but not everything. And the parts I didn't think of were related to clues that had made me think "Something must be significant about X, but what?" The end satisfied me.
Apart from the interpersonal struggles and plot machinations, the magic tricks in the movie are fun to watch, either from the perspective of the unwitting audience or the (dis)ingenious magician. Of course, at a time when movie technology has advanced to the point that animals routinely morph into people on screen, audiences are more jaded about what they see. In any recent all-talents-accepted competitions, the magicians are usually the first to go. We're accustomed to seeing fake realities on our screens, and aren't impressed. It's nice to have a movie to celebrate a simpler time when magic wasn't taken for granted.