The Prestige is the "other" film about magicians, which came out right around the time of The Illusionist. Although on the surface the two films seem to be set in similar time periods about similar subjects, they couldn't be more different.
The Prestige is about two magicians and their obsessive quest to one-up each other. Robert Angier (Hugh Jackman) is a polished American magician who performs with his wife, fellow British magician Alfred Borden (Christian Bale) and gizmo inventor Cutter (Michael Caine). When Angier's wife drowns during a trick, he blames Borden for the deed. Borden's unsatisfying response to which knot he tied is, "I don't know."
That burning question ("How could he not know?") consumes Angier and sets the tone for the movie. But this is esteemed director Christopher Nolan we're talking about, so nothing is that simple. The movie has multiple layers. It's broken into three parts (the Pledge, the Turn, and the Prestige). But it's also a duel between the two magicians, consuming everything from their friends (Cutter) to their wives to their mistresses (Olivia Wenscombe, played by Scarlett Johansson) to their very children, retold through each of their respective diaries. It's also a battle of magic vs. technology, illusion vs. reality, showmanship vs. stagecraft. Nolan poses the question: When does a single-minded quest for perfection become ruthless enough to commit murder?
The twists and turns in the film aren't too hard to follow; astute viewers will pick up on the secrets behind both magicians' acts. What's really terrifying is the little sins that magicians commit in performing their illusions. What happens to all cute those bunnies and pigeons that disappear? You don't want to know.
If The Prestige has a flaw, it's that the movie takes so long to reveal the entirety of its performance and deception. Still, the gut-punch ending is worth the wait.