Early in The Prestige (trailer, official site), Michael Caine as Cutter, a designer of illusions, explains:
This is the approach screenplay writers Christopher and Jonathan Nolan have created in honing the plot of the movie. Directed by Christopher Nolan, the director of Batman Begins and Memento, The Prestige is masterpiece of illusion, misdirection and stunning conclusion.
Every great magic trick consists of 3 acts. The first act is called the Pledge. The magician shows you something ordinary but, of course, it probably isn’t. The second act is called the Turn. The magician makes this ordinary something do something extraordinary.
Now you’re looking for the secret but you won’t find it. That’s why there is a third act called the Prestige. This is the part with the twist and turns; where lives hang in the balance. And, you see something shocking you have never seen before.
In the Prestige, the story isn’t linear. Rather a series of flashbacks advance the action. The pledge is the emergence of a rivalry between friends and fellow magicians Robert Angier (Hugh Jackman) and Alfred Borden (Christian Bale). In the turn, the rivalry becomes a war and Scarlett Johansson as Olivia and David Bowie as Nikola Tesla join the battle. And, the prestige? I can’t reveal the details, but it is everything Cutter promises and it is why you must go see this film.
The characters in The Prestige are not likeable or particularly deep. However, the acting is uniformly outstanding, and the magic is a fantastic backdrop for the complex and suspenseful storyline. Ricky Jay and Michael Weber served as consultants.
Bonus link 1: The Secret Life of Harry Houdini
Bonus link 2: the “War of Currents”