This is a drama about intense rivalry between stage magicians in the late 19th Century. The evocation of the period, although first rate, is not the main attraction, however. The Prestige has an incredibly clever plot including the most ingenious murder I've ever come across. It also has a deeply moving and sad love story hidden in it, which gradually emerges over the course of the film.
The film requires a strong suspension of disbelief on some key points: there is a science-fiction premise which is introduced using the real historical character of Nikola Tesla (I'd rather they had used a fictional scientist). There are a couple more implausibilities required to hold it together (something odd that goes on that none of the characters pick up on and a dead-end that by a huge coincidence turns out not to be a dead-end: I can't be more specific without spoiling the plot).
However, rather than feeling cheated by these aspects of the film, I'm hugely impressed. The writers have taken an implausible (okay, impossible) premise but created an intricate, involving and visual story that would be impossible without that premise. Scenes join up with each other in many subtle ways, echoing the same writers' earlier film Memento. Even when you've seen the twist coming, the final scene which lays it all out are has a lot of impact and I suspect the final shot will haunt my dreams.
I expected the film to be about nice costumes or impressive magical trickery, but it is actually about deep emotions felt by the main characters as they deal with the situations life has dealt them, and it rather than serving up those emotions on a plate, it requires you to think and piece together what you've seen. That's got to be a good thing, in fact the best of what film a be.
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