Christopher Nolan knows how to direct a good mystery. The skilled auteur behind "Batman Begins" and "Memento" delivers a cunning whodunit with "The Prestige". Set in 1890's London, the film follows the bitter rivalry of two magicians bound by tragedy. Rupert Angier (Hugh Jackman) and Alfred Borden (Christian Bale) begin their careers working together in a magic act. A terrible miscalculation by Borden leads to the death of Angier's wife (Piper Perabo). What follows is a violent game of brinksmanship as the magicians constantly try to outdo each other. Borden then takes the competition to new heights with a spectacular illusion, 'The Transported Man', that baffles Angier completely. He becomes obsessed with finding out its secret, and is willing to do anything to prove that he is the greater magician.
The key to enjoying "The Prestige" is to avoid spoilers at all costs. This is a true mystery and any real knowledge of the film will ruin the surprise. The rising action is exceptionally crafted. Nolan's screenplay is packed with subtle clues that build expertly to the payoff. It is a bit fantastic, but highly imaginative. I was able to figure out the twist by the climax, but that is by no means a negative. Any good mystery can be solved if the clues are apparent. Nolan deserves a tremendous amount of credit by sticking to his plot and avoiding the pitfall of throwing in something random to throw the audience off.
Hugh Jackman and Christian Bale are outstanding here. It is rare to see two A-list actors share the screen so well. Both actors play their roles without ego. There is no overacting or attempt to steal the film from either of them. The crux of "The Prestige" is the hatred and animosity these two characters feel towards each other. They are so believable as Angier and Borden; I was never once taken out of the story by their performances. Audiences expecting to see a showdown between Wolverine and Batman will be sorely disappointed. These are two accomplished actors in top form.
Any movie about magic has to have a magical feel and look. Once again Nolan delivers in spades. The production design in "The Prestige" is reminiscent of a Jules Verne novel. The period setting is vividly crafted with an eye towards the dreary and ominous nature of 19th century London. The magicians use various electrical gadgets in their conjuring. These metallic behemoths fill the screen with bolts of lightning, providing the necessary smoke and mirrors required in any magic act.
My lone criticism of the "The Prestige" is the pacing. It does take a while to get going. The first act could really have been cut further, but is left at length, I believe, out of respect for the actors. Nolan has a great cast and wants them on screen as much as possible. This is a minor flaw in a thoroughly entertaining film. "The Prestige" is not to be missed.