An American (Cate Blanchett) on a tour bus in Morocco is severely wounded by a bullet out of nowhere (it comes from two boys playing with a rifle), and her husband (a bearded, puffy Brad Pitt doing a George Clooney Oscar run) kneels for hour after agonizing hour at her side in a remote village, trying to keep her alive until help comes. Meanwhile, two cute San Diego kids are whisked to rural Mexico when their babysitter (Adriana Barraza), left mysteriously to her own devices, feels compelled to attend her son’s wedding. Across the world, a deaf-mute Japanese teenager (Rinko Kikuchi) removes her undies and flashes her privates at a group of boys—and then at anyone who’ll look at her.
The theme appears to be Americans who are scarily vulnerable in the impoverished Third World—but what does that disturbed Japanese girl have to do with anything? There is a connection, it turns out, but a tenuous one, and when the filmmakers start playing fancy tricks with the timeline, you might be tempted to throw up your hands. Tricky storytelling is an irritant when you can’t trust the storyteller.
Just as untrustworthy is the storytelling in The Prestige, a pretzeled tale of rival turn-of-the-century magicians (Christian Bale and Hugh Jackman) who play increasingly lethal tricks on one another. The tit-for-tat scenario ought to be wildly entertaining, but the magic is crude, the characters flyweight, and the story protracted and unpleasant. As his budgets have soared, the brilliant director Christopher Nolan (Memento, Insomnia) has been unable to control the bloat. The only thing to emerge from The Prestige with any, er, prestige is The Illusionist—which seems more than ever a miracle of elegance and wit.