Magicians Robert (Hugh Jackman) and Alfred (Christian Bale) become rivals after Alfred accidentally causes the mid-trick death of Robert's wife. They then continually try to one-up each other onstage. Scarlett Johansson also stars in the film, based on Christopher Priest's novel. (Note: we learn the three parts of a trick are the setup, or "pledge," the action, or "turn," and the reveal, or "prestige.")
Big question: Can Christopher Nolan ("Memento," "Batman Begins") make "The Prestige" more astounding than "The Illusionist"?
Catch it: Where "The Illusionist" deprived us of mystery, "The Prestige" capitalizes on our curiosity, teasing us with answers to some tricks so we'll be enthralled when seeing a new one that has yet to be explained. By showing magicians rehearsing their tricks and engaging in a brain-battle with each other, Nolan restores mystique to onscreen magic and renders even practice performances utterly fascinating.
Skip it: If you are a bird lover. When Robert says he doesn't want to kill doves in his act, his associate (Michael Caine) replies, "Then stay off the stage!"
Bottom line: Ultra-stylish and handsomely acted by Bale and Jackman, "The Prestige" is a workout for your mind and entertainment of the highest order. You may have to suspend disbelief a bit; if you can't, what are you doing in a movie about magicians?
Bonus: There's no better assessment of an illusion than this comment, made by the woman who becomes Alfred's wife (Rebecca Hall): "Once you know, it's actually very obvious."
Matt Pais is the metromix movies producer.
Directed by Christopher Nolan; screenplay by Jonathan Nolan and Christopher Nolan, based on the novel by Christopher Priest; cinematography by Wally Pfister; edited by Lee Smith; production design by Nathan Crowley; music by David Julyan; produced by Emma Thomas, Aaron Ryder and Christopher Nolan. A Touchstone Pictures and Warner Bros. Pictures release; opens Friday. Running time: 2:15. MPAA rating: PG-13 (for violence and disturbing images).
Robert Angier - Hugh Jackman
Alfred Borden - Christian Bale
Cutter - Michael Caine
Olivia Wenscombe - Scarlett Johansson
Nikola Tesla - David Bowie
Julia McCullough - Piper Perabo
Sarah - Rebecca Hall