Fri, Oct 20, 2006 - Page 16 News List

Blinded bysmokeand mirrors

By Bruce Westbrook  /  NY TIMES NEWS SERVICE

Beautiful people, sumptuous costumes, but not much magic.


Too late! They've both been trumped by The Illusionist, a more satisfying entertainment that explores the same esoteric territory: magicians as superstars in late-19th-century Europe.

Angier (Jackman) and Borden (Bale) are London magicians who become bitter foes after a stunt goes horribly wrong. While The Prestige masquerades as a romance, the film chiefly concerns the men's insufferable competitiveness. They act like extreme-sports junkies with adrenaline to burn — and not much sense.

Nor does the film involve much wonder for magic itself. Rather than tantalizing illusions, it offers magic that's revealed as not-so-cheap tricks. We see the guts of the gizmos and the sneakiness of the stunts, while each man tries to one-up the other — at any cost.

The film also applies misdirection, which is what magic is all about. Not everything is as it seems, not when there's money to be made, reputations to be carved, body-doubles to be used and surprise endings to be sprung.

With Christopher Nolan (Memento) directing, its time-jumbled narrative also never really clicks. It's more confusing than absorbing.

The film has fine period details and a strong supporting cast, which includes Michael Caine and David Bowie as magic-driven men.

Oh, yes — Scarlett Johansson plays a showy stage assistant who bounces between the rivals. But it's a bland, thankless role, so don't expect much. The real magic would be for Hollywood to start giving women as many meaty roles as it lavishes on men.

Film Notes:

The PrestigeDirected by: Christopher Nolan

Starring: Hugh Jackman (Robert Angier), Christian Bale (Alfred Borden), Michael Caine (Cutter), Piper Perabo (Jlia McCullough), Rebecca Hall (Sarah), Scarlett Johansson (Olivia Wenscombe)

Running time: 130 Minutes

Taiwan release: Today

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