'The Prestige': Magical, marvelous filmmaking

Posted 10/19/2006 9:15 PM ET

Touchstone Pictures/Warner Bros. Pictures
Do you believe in magic?: Hugh Jackman stars as a magician
in turn-of-the-century London in The Prestige.

The Prestige
* * * 1/2 (out of four)
Director: Christopher Nolan
Stars: Hugh Jackman, Christian Bale, Scarlett Johansson, Michael Caine
Distributor: Touchstone and Warner Bros. Pictures
Rating: PG-13 for violence and disturbing images
Running time: 2 hours, 8 minutes
Opens Friday nationwide

By Claudia Puig, USA TODAY

The Prestige is a visually stunning, startlingly clever sleight of hand that will have audiences pondering well after the lights go up.

Stylishly directed by Christopher Nolan (Batman Begins) and written by Nolan and his brother Jonathan, who came up with Memento, Prestige is one of the most innovative, twisting, turning art films of the past decade. Think of this as Memento for mass audiences.

Prestige does have a few contrivances, but with the handsome and talented cast, led by Christian Bale, Hugh Jackman, Michael Caine and Scarlett Johansson, it is a movie that will engage smart moviegoers. It dazzles with its stunning period production design and challenges us to see if we can guess where it's leading.

The suspenseful tale is built on illusions. The setting is London at the turn of the century. A rivalry develops between two magicians (Jackman and Bale), formerly friends, that spirals into a lifelong clash of magical proportions.

Jackman believes that Bale is responsible for the death of his wife (Piper Perabo), who had been their assistant while they were apprentice magicians. His determination to get the better of Bale grows into an obsessive fervor. Bale becomes equally intent upon outdoing and outwitting Jackman. In the process of one-upping each other, they run up against an errant inventor (a wonderful mustachioed David Bowie) whose experiments with electricity have been disavowed by the scientific community.

Jackman is assisted by Michael Caine, his calming confidant, who designs the machinery and boxes that magicians use for disappearing acts and the like.

The fierce competition between the pair drives their careers and overtakes everything else in each of their lives. Johansson plays Jackman's assistant and lover, whom he persuades to spy for him by going to work for Bale.

Jackman and Bale are top-notch, and Andy Serkis (Lord of the Rings' Gollum) is noteworthy as Bowie's assistant.

The Prestige is wonderfully engrossing, darkly mysterious and entertaining from start to finish.