Super short review: Well acted, tired plot, too cute for it's own good.
Short review: The Prestige is one of those movies that starts with a premise (voiced over by one of the characters) and then proceeds to build the structure of the movie on that premise. The premise of The Prestige is that there's three parts to a magic trick: the pledge (where the performer sells the trick), the turn (where the performer makes the ordinary extraordinary, and the prestige (the payoff).
It sort of works, but the disjointed timing of the flashbacks and staccato movement of the action is jarring. Many people have commented on the similarities to the director's (Christopher Nolan) previous work, Momento. The Prestige has that feel, although not nearly as jarring. In that vein, however, The Prestige falls down. Where Momento jumped around in order to draw you into the point of view of the main character, The Prestige manages to confuse and dare you to figure out the When of what you just saw. For Nolan, disjointed timelines are starting to feel like a fall-back position.
That said, the movie is visually stunning, building a sense of presence from the sets themselves. The acting is very good, perhaps superb considering the stiffness of the leads previous roles (Michael Caine aside). Christian Bale and Michael Caine are both excellent and the casting of David Bowie as Nichola Tesla was a wonderful surprise. Scarlett Johansson as always, played herself, only this time she had to wear older clothes.
In the end, you're left wondering exactly what happened. The movie tried far too hard to be a magic trick, working to whip aside the cloth and reveal the end of the illusion. But the "ta da" moment never really hits you and you're left wanting. While the film waits for the applause after the prestige, all I could muster was courtesy clapping for technical execution and acting, but not so much for the experience.
3.5/5 stars (liked it, won't buy)