British director Christopher Nolan's (BATMAN BEGINS) eclectic resume gains another interesting entry with THE PRESTIGE. The basic plot, which concerns the rivalry between two magicians in early 20th-century London, closely resembles a fellow 2006 movie--Edward Norton's THE ILLUSIONIST--and the two films are sure to be closely compared. In Nolan's film, Hugh Jackman and Christian Bale bring the characters of Robert Angier and Alfred Bordon to life. Robert and Alfred were young magician apprentices together, but became bitter rivals as their careers began to shape their adult lives and a terrible accident claimed the life of Robert's wife. In the subsequent years Robert has become wildly jealous of Alfred's superior talents, so in a last ditch attempt to steal some artistic ground he sends his assistant, Olivia (Scarlett Johansson), to infiltrate his rival's lair and steal the secret to a spectacular trick called "The Transported Man."
Nolan's film twists and turns down a number of unexpected avenues as it flits back and forth between numerous time periods, creating a movie that needs to be watched as closely as the tricks his leading characters perform. Bale and Jackman perfectly execute their roles, winding up the tension to an unbearable degree as they willfully enter into some dangerously competitive patterns of behavior. Michael Caine makes his second appearance in a Nolan film, almost reprising his role of Alfred in BATMAN BEGINS by playing Cutter, Jackman's mentor; and Johansson pouts and flounces across the elaborate sets like a classic Hollywood screen siren. Stylistically, THE PRESTIGE is full of dark, gloomy colors and a palpable feeling of menace, which is an impeccable visual match for the viewer's growing unease as the protagonists push each other to increasingly ridiculous lengths. It's not an easy film to digest, but Nolan's movie offers intelligent and challenging fare that will likely reveal further cinematic magic on repeated viewings.