Death Defying Acts

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Death Defying Acts
Never more than mildly distracting, this wayward drama of romantic and psychological intrigue from the director of ‘Charlotte Gray’ offers an episode in the life of Harry Houdini: a 1926 trip to Edinburgh in the difficult years following the death of his mother.

But unlike in ‘The Prestige’ or ‘The Illusionist’ we’re not asked to wonder at stage acts. Instead our perspective is that of mother-and-daughter tricksters Mary (Catherine Zeta Jones) and Benji McGarvie (Saoirse Ronan), who scrape a living by appearing to have psychic powers and spot an opportunity when Houdini (Guy Pearce) arrives in town offering a reward to anyone who can channel his mother’s last words. And so we’re treated to Houdini’s multiple hang-ups with his mother, fame and intimacy.

None of the cast shine, although Ronan shows promise after ‘Atonement’ and Timothy Spall is passable as Houdini’s manager. Pearce never makes his Houdini seem anything more than a little troubled and Zeta Jones’s flat foil doesn’t help matters. All in all, it’s a bit of a snore that falls back on romance when all else fails.

By: Dave Calhoun


Release details

Rated: PG
Release date: Friday August 8 2008
Duration: 96 mins

Cast and crew

Director: Gillian Armstrong
Cast: Guy Pearce
Catherine Zeta-Jones
Saoirse Ronan

Average User Rating

3.8 / 5

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Zeta Jones and Guy Pearce have a romance and yet these tow actors have absolutely no chemistry. The story hangs together with a series of obscure jerks from one scene to another. The plot is so thin that one costantly tries to guess which way the story is supposed to go. Timothy Spall is unsure of his role and the whole film is prevented from being a flop, in my opinion, by the excellent performance of Saoirse Ronan.

A feelgood romantic movie, with fine performances from the adult cast, but again Saoirse Ronan steals the limelight with a delighful turn.