The Prestige

Opens at Metro and other theaters, Fri., Oct. 20. Rated PG-13. 135 minutes.

If the greatest magicians never reveal their tricks, then Christopher Nolan wouldn't make it past the children's birthday party circuit. It's not that Nolan has anything against the old hocus-pocus, but it's the practical side of magic that appeals to him most—the nuts-and-bolts explanation behind the seemingly "impossible" feat. Magic lies at the front in Nolan's latest, about two rival illusionists (Hugh Jackman and Christian Bale) who obsessively pursue each other from turn-of-the-20th-century London to the wilds of Colorado and the stages of the West End to the laboratory of the mad-genius inventor Nikola Tesla (played to paranoid perfection by David Bowie). Set at a historical moment perfect for a rationalist thinker like Nolan, as the last vestiges of the Victorian era give way to the dawning of the Machine Age, it's a lopsided but compulsively absorbing movie in which the director seems less drawn to his main characters than to those on the periphery—to Tesla and to Angier's wizened illusion designer Cutter (Michael Caine) and, by extension, all those other men through the ages who have sought to bridge the gap between the real and the illusory, the natural and the supernatural. SCOTT FOUNDAS

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