Death Defying Acts
Harry Houdini, the world's most famous escape artist, meets a woman whose love he can not escape.  score

moviereview rates films from
1 (unwatchable) to 5 (unmissable)
Guy Pearce, Catherine Zeta Jones, Saoirse Ronan, Timothy Spall

Gillain Armstrong

Tony Grisoni
Brian Ward

UK / Australia

Rating / Running Time
PG / 97 minutes

Australian Release
March 2008

Official Site

(c) moviereview 2006-2008
ABN 72 775 390 361
Harry Houdini adjacent an under-construction Sydney Harbour Bridge sets an eloquent opening tone. Gillian Armstrong’s vivid romantic drama is many things, foremost it is elegantly dressed: Jones and Pearce hug the camera, opulent locations do the rest. The story soon moves to Britain where the celebrated American is wowing the natives. Houdini (Pearce) is the first word in magic, an escape artist who can free himself from chains submerged in a tank of water.  But there are many types of bonds, and chains of love are another matter entirely.

Death Defying Acts is, foremost, a love-story between two people whose line of work brings them closer than they thought possible. She is Scottish beauty Mary McGarvie (Jones) who, with her scrappy daughter Benji (Atonement’s Saoirse Ronan), offers a different type of escape. They’re con artists who ‘commune with the dead’ for pennies a performance. Learning that Houdini has a secret for which he’ll pay handsomely, the set out to divulge his heart’s desire.

No stranger to the genre, Armstrong ticks all the boxes as she layers her story with a confident sense of period need. Mary’s poor background, her unconventional ways and her daughter’s unconventional beliefs butt neatly into Houndini’s privileged, empty world. Timothy Spall as his anxious manager lends ample weight; though Pearce, and to a lesser extent Jones, fails to bring much that is new to the drama. They leave that to rising talent Saoirse who, for moments at a time, injects a sense of intrigue and urgency that fits with the wondrous detail.

Death Defying Acts is not boring, but elegance alone leaves little impression. Ironically for a film about magic, there’s little to be found.