There are nifty tricks galore up the sumptuous sleeve of this offbeat and wildly entertaining thriller. But I won’t spoil them. You can safely know this: Hugh Jackman as personality-plus Robert Angier and Christian Bale as cool technician Alfred Borden are turn-of-the-twentieth-century magicians out to beat the other at his own devious game. In The Illusionist, Edward Norton had to work alone. Jackman and Bale make a mind-bending team. Special props to Bale, whose award-bait tour de force will spin your head around.
At the helm is Memento director Christopher Nolan, who teamed up with his brother Jonathan to add fresh twists to the novel by Christopher Priest. These Nolans are not to be trusted, but they sure make it fun to be fooled. Scarlett Johansson plays a sexy assistant, first to Robert and then Alfred. Everyone is focused on an illusion (The Transported Man) cooked up by electricity whiz Nikola Tesla (yes, that is David Bowie, and he’s mesmerizing). Michael Caine steals all his scenes as Cutter, the insider who drops teasing hints about how every trick has three acts: the Pledge that draws you in, the Turn that moves you out of the ordinary and the Prestige, where you can’t believe your eyes. Nolan directs the film exactly like a great trick, so you want to see it again the second it’s over. I’d call that wicked clever.