Death Defying Acts (12A)

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The ViewLondon Review

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Review byMatthew Turner06/08/2008

Four out of Five stars
Running time: 97 mins

Thoroughly entertaining drama with a strong script, excellent direction and terrific performances from Pearce, Ronan and Catherine Zeta Jones.

What's it all about?
Set in 1920s Edinburgh, Death Defying Acts stars Guy Pierce as legendary escapologist Harry Houdini, who offers $10,000 to any so-called psychic who can tell him his dead mother's final words. When Houdini announces Edinburgh as the next stop on his tour, his offer piques the interest of sexy con artist Mary (Catherine Zeta Jones), who makes her living as the scantily-clad psychic Princess Kali with her daughter Benji (Atonement's Saoirse Ronan) posing as her Dusky Assistant.

However, when Mary accepts Houdini's challenge, she finds herself unexpectedly drawn to him, even as she and Benji scheme to somehow find out the final words by trickery. Similarly, Houdini is charmed by Benji and captivated by Mary, not least because of her resemblance to his dearly departed mother.

The Good
Director Gillian Armstrong does an excellent job of capturing period Edinburgh and some of the set design work (the elaborate stage acts and luxury hotels) is superb. Guy Pearce is excellent as Houdini and he has genuine chemistry with a sensational looking Catherine Zeta Jones – the scene where they almost kiss is breathtakingly good.

Apart from looking stunning in a series of fabulous frocks, Zeta Jones also pulls off an extremely impressive Edinburgh accent and it's great to see her in a decent role for once. There's also terrific support from Saoirse Ronan, who almost steals the entire movie with a series of delightful little moments (such as handing someone a half-eaten toffee apple), although her voiceover begins to grate after a while.

The Great
Ronan also does a fabulous job of conveying the fact that Benji is jealous of her mother, without even properly understanding where her jealousy comes from. Finally, Timothy Spall is superb as Houdini's right-hand man (Spallness Factor: Low) and his scenes with Ronan are delightful.

Worth seeing?
Death Defying Acts is a hugely enjoyable, impressively directed drama with superb performances and an emotionally engaging script. Terrific final scene too. Highly recommended.

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Death Defying Acts (12A)
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Content updated: 19/12/2014 12:13

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