Gillian Armstrong is in good form with her fascinating film ‘Death Defying Acts’ which she has directed from an original screenplay by Brian Ward and Tony Grisoni.
The story is set late in Harry Houdini’s life. He is established as the quintessential magician and entertainer. The film really gets going when Houdini puts out a general media advertisement that he will pay a large sum of money to anyone who can establish connection to the other side with his mum who passed away a few years ago, and whom he misses deeply.
Tbe advertisement attracts the attention of a beautiful young woman, Mary McGarvie, who is a magician and psychic herself. Mary is struggling financially with bringing up a precocious young daughter, Benji. She sees the opportunity to meet Houdini and to make a quick killing financially. A meeting is arranged…
‘Death Defying Acts’ is about many things …. worlds within worlds…right from the start with the swirling underwater shots, water is a constant symbol in the film – one knows that this is a film that one can dive right into. It’s about the nature of love..scheming and deception…about business…. about true and false heroism…about loss…loss that can be regained and loss that can’t be.
The performances are strong…Guy Pierce is convincing as Houdini who starts to believe his own publicity and that there is a science to his magic. Catherine Zeta-Jones is so watchable as Mary McGarvie and seems to have totally taken on the role. There’s a great performance by Timothy Spall as Houdini’s manager, Mr Sugaman. Here is a portrayal of a man with both aspects, a hard man, a totally ruthless businessman but who is also a great softie at heart.
Saiorse Ronan gives a memorable performance as Mary’s daughter, Benji,who was the film’s narrator, and had such a strong screen presence.