An illusion of a magic thriller
"If this be magic, let it be an art
Lawful as eating." Shakespeare, the Winter's Tale
The Prestige begins as does The Illusionist (2006): Magic tricks in the 19th century that astound the audience in the film and in front of it. The difference is that Prestige offers the secrets of many tricks where Illusionist bares few if any. Perhaps that difference reveals a figurative distance between the similar films: Prestige keeps an emotional distance, as do its characters, while Illusionist is very much about love between a man and a woman with the illusions serving that love. Indeed, "prestige" from the Middle French means illusion and tricks.
The Prestige tells of Robert Angier (Hugh Jackman) and Alfred Borden (Christian Bale), rivals for a lifetime. Their intense competition centers around being the best magician in London, a feat mostly connected with Borden's electromagnetic transporting a man in a split second to somewhere else. Angier wants the secret, and that's no secret in the film, nor that both men share the affection of Angier's assistant, played by the increasingly curvaceous Scarlett Johansson.
The convolutions of plot are no surprise coming from Christopher Nolan of Memento fame. The downside is that the plot becomes repetitious, especially as it circles the doppelganger motif. Truth and illusion are served well, many times over, until redundancy and boredom set in, certainly for this reviewer who usually loves ambiguity and paradox.
A "prestige" is the final stage of a trick, the one that brings back whatever had vanished and asserts the magician's preeminence. This film did not bring back for me the terror of the trick as Illusionist did. The trick is probably that Prestige looks like The Illusionist but is an illusion of just such a magic thriller.