Death Defying Acts

Death Defying Acts


Reviewed by: Darren Amner

Death Defying Acts arrives in cinemas to follow last years slew of magician themed movies and has been hyped as being the next Prestige.

It follows the adventures of one Harry Houdini (Guy Pearce) a famous escape artist on tour in the 1920s. It is 13 years after his mother's death which has left him devastated and Houdini feels he has yet to gain closure after her passing.

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The escapologist offers $10,000 to anyone who can make contact with his deceased mother and prove they are the real deal by revealing her last words to him - enter Mary McGarvie (Catherine Zeta-Jones) a con-artist and her daughter Benji (Saoirse Ronan), who set their sights on his reward.

Mary makes ends meet by being quite the performer herself. She conducts psychic acts that pull in the public while Benji surreptitiously gathers information on members of the audience - information Mary uses to con them into believing they can reach out to their deceased loved ones. They are the perfect double-act.

Their only obstacle is Houdini's protective manager, Sugarman (Timothy Spall). Mary manages to charm the unsuspecting magician, but as they spend more and more time together, Sugarman intervenes, trying to prevent Houdini from becoming entangled with Mary, of whom he is suspicious.

Production values for the film are very attractive and capture the time of the setting admirably. Guy Pearce is a phenomenal actor and it seems finds no character a challenge. After tackling Andy Warhol it's now Houdini that appeals to him. Houdini is a showman to his public but tormented out of the public eye and Pearce does display a handsome range to deal with this complicated array of emotions.

Zeta-Jones is adequate in her role as the conspiring psychic out to make a better life for her and her daughter. She seems to enjoy playing the tricks, but she and Pearce have zero romantic chemistry together resulting in the feeling that she was miscast.

The men in marketing are trying to sell this as a romantic-supernatural thriller - which is definitely the real illusion of this film. One guilty pleasure is the always reliable Spall as Houdini's short-tempered manager, who provides much of the welcome comic relief.

Arriving with little of no-fanfare Death Defying Acts will struggle to pull in crowds. One saving grace will be the pretty attractive leads but this is the only magic it has to rely on. You'll find it hard to empathise with these characters and I predict the movie will do a disappearing act of it's own from cinemas in quite a short period of time.

Reviewed on: 20 Jul 2008
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Harry Houdini falls for a gypsy 'psychic' in an Edinburgh-set period romance.
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Read more Death Defying Acts reviews:

Amber Wilkinson ***

Director: Gillian Armstrong

Writer: Tony Grisoni, Brian Ward

Starring: Catherine Zeta-Jones, Guy Pearce, Timothy Spall, Saoirse Ronan, Jack Bailey, Aaron Brown, MacKay Crawford, James Fiddy, Martin Fisher, Tim Frost, Campbell Graham

Year: 2007

Runtime: 97 minutes

Country: UK

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If you like this, try:

The Prestige