Houdini Affairs of the Heart and Head.
Death Defying Acts is directed by Gillian Armstrong and written by Tony Grisoni and Brian Ward. It stars Guy Pearce, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Timothy Spall and Saoirse Ronan. Music is by Cezary Skubiszewski and cinematography by Haris Zambarloukos.
Not a biopic of Harry Houdini, but an episode in his life, Death Defying Acts (a bum steer of a title) is lukewarm across the board. Story charts the years after the death of Houdini’s mother, where he travels to 1920s Edinburgh and falls in with Psychic Tricksters Mary (Jones) and Benji McGarvie (Ronan), a mother and daughter team who spy an opportunity to prise a cash reward offered by the great escapologist.
What is intended to be a searching examination of Houdini, his mental fragility, hang-ups, strengths and etc, just plays out as a romantic period piece lacking vim and vigour. Pearce works hard as Houdini but never gets to grasp the tormented angle of the man, while Jones is miscast and not even her pretty face can light up a dull performance. Ronan is sprightly enough and Spall shows some emotive verve as Houdini’s concerned manager. The moments of trickery perk things up a bit, but even then the makers think it’s wise to debunk the mysticism. The romanticism of the era, and that of Houdini’s place in it, is well crafted onto the screen, but the flatness and confused thematic threads elsewhere leave this well below average. 4/10