Set in a world of top hats, cravats and disappearing bunnies, The Prestige is a superb puzzle-box thriller. Christian Bale and Hugh Jackman star as magicians in turn-of-the-century London, locked in a bitter feud after the death of an assistant in an illusion gone wrong. Directed by Christopher Nolan (Memento), this adaptation of Christopher Priest's slippery novel has more than a few tricks up its sleeve. You'll leave thrilled but perplexed, asking: how did they do that?
It's a film that's deliberately designed to pull the wool over your eyes. The fragmented story is full of flashbacks, often told via diary entries that prove distinctly untrustworthy (think Memento for the Victorian era). You know you're being misdirected by cinematic sleight of hand, but you can't avoid being sucked in. The two leads excel as the rival conjurors: Jackman aristocratic, Bale with a cheeky, borderline-panto cockney patois. It's an epic tale of professional rivalry that ends with some fantastically impossible hocus-pocus that we can't spoil here.
Supporting turns from Michael Caine (excellent) Scarlett Johnasson (wasted as Debbie McGee eye-candy) and David Bowie (just plain weird) add a touch of class; yet in the end the real magician here is Nolan. Caine's retired conjuror tells us that "the prestige" is the third and final part of a magician's act, the moment when the crowd (confused, amazed and thrilled) applaud in disbelief. Nolan's now you see it, now you don't magic trick delivers prestige by the bucket-load. In fact, it brings the house down. Abracadabra!