Death Defying ActsMarch 13, 2008
On a tour of Britain in 1926, Harry Houdini enters into a passionate affair with a psychic out to con the famous magician.
Release Year: 2007
Rating: 5.8/10 (5,101 voted)
Critic's Score: 48/100
Stars: Catherine Zeta-Jones, Guy Pearce, Timothy Spall
During Harry Houdini's tour of Britain in 1926, the master escapologist enters into a passionate affair with a Scottish psychic. The psychic and her daughter attempt to con Houdini during a highly publicized séance to contact his mother whose death has haunted him for many years. However all does not go to plan…
Writers: Tony Grisoni, Brian Ward
Leith Romeo's wife
Flower Stall Seller
(as Frankey Martyn)
Effie – Elderly Seamstress
Music Hall Dwarf
Magic Is Inescapable
Release Date: 13 March 2008
Filming Locations: Aylesbury, Buckinghamshire, England, UK
Box Office Details
Opening Weekend: $3,561
(13 July 2008)
(13 July 2008)
The opening scene reveals the partially built arches of the Sydney Harbour Bridge behind Houdini as he is lifted to the surface of the water. Houdini died in 1926. Construction of the arches did not commence until 1928.
A Nutshell Review: Death Defying Acts
What had drawn me to watch Death Defying Acts, is that it's a story
with Harry Houdini, arguably the greatest illusionist and escape artist
of our time. A few days ago I was browsing through a book which
revealed the secrets behind his brand of death defying acts, and really
he's a man of science, engineering and most of all, a performer to
bring to life the act of fooling an audience into believing his stunts.
Sure there's an element of danger, but with proper risk assessment and
safeguards, they strip away all the mystique that serves to confound.
But contrary to the title, there's nothing really death defying about
the movie, as it treaded on safe ground and doesn't dwell any more on
the illusions that it has to. In fact, you can count the number of
stunts which involve Harry Houdini, and the filmmakers left that for
another biographical movie that someone else should pick up on. What we
have instead are glimpses into the man's personal life, and Guy Pearce
provided quite an intense and charismatic Houdini with personal demons
of his own to do battle with, though the story seemed to rein him in
from dwelling too much on that aspect, and preferred to have a more
romantic tale weaved in.
The romanticism of the movie is not with his illusions, but with a
single parent who's a psychic of sorts, relying on her street smarts to
get her own act going. Catherine Zeta-Jones plays Mary McGarvie, who
has to rely on her wits to build credibility for her stage character.
Together with daughter and sidekick Benji (played by Saoirse Ronan of
Atonement fame), the mother and daughter team tries hard to make a
living from their acts, but realize that they're by no means close to
Houdini's widespread fame and fortune.
However, Houdini himself throws a gauntlet to all psychics far and
wide, that whosoever can accurately reveal what his late mother had
last said to him, will inherit US$10,000. His purpose it seems is to
reveal that the majority of these soothsayers are tricksters in
disguise, until of course he meets the luminous Mary, and affairs of
the heart throws him off course. Naturally, Mary and Benji find
themselves up against the best in the business, but when your back is
against the wall, there's nothing much to lose it seems.
As mentioned earlier, this movie's more of a character study of the
master magician, and explores things like his guilt because of
dedication to his craft and performance, as well as his questionable
motives in being attracted to the fictional Mary McGarvie. Narrated by
the character of Benji, we see things through a child's eyes, and
perhaps therein lies the loss of some pathos in the romantic angle of
it. On one hand, it isn't your classic romantic story, while on the
other, it doesn't seem to want to preach the method, rationale and
mindset of Houdini himself.
So what emerged is a mixed bag. Beautifully shot, but again falling on
the emptiness of its effort in trying to allow the audience to feel for
the characters. At least Timothy Spall, who plays Mr Sugarman,
Houdini's manager, allowed for some light moments as the guarded and
wary person that he is. And credit goes to keeping the ending quite