Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Death Defying Acts **

Director: Gillian Armstrong
Cast: Guy Pearce, Catherine Zeta-Jones
Saoirse Ronan, Timothy Spall

The year is 1926 and noted escape artist, magician and actor Harry Houdini (Pearce) is trying to debunk fake spiritualists and mediums.
He places the ultimate bet; a $10,000 cash prize for anyone who can tell him what his dead mother's last words were.
Mary McGarvie (Zeta-Jones) and her daughter Benji (Ronan) are con artists who have earned a reputation for their team act during which they make believe audience members they have made contact with their deceased loved ones.
When they learn about Houdini's challenge they find the perfect opportunity to get out of poverty, once the magician arrives to their hometown of Edinburgh the run into the one thing they weren't expecting as Houdini begins to fall for Mary.
With a plot that tries to cover as much fields as its subject did, the film fails at most of them more often than not.
It establishes itself as historical fiction, but assumes that just because it talks about a magician it can just go ahead and assume we'll all suspend our disbelief immediately.
While Pearce gives a rather good performance as Houdini, Zeta-Jones never really convinces us that she has the charm to knock the guy's socks off.
What makes this woman believe she's so good at fraud that she'll get Houdini too is something we never fully understand.
While the romantic subplot seems to be something used as a safety net in case everything else fails.
It could have also tried to exploit Harry's obsession with debunking mediums and what did his fixation on death had to do with how he approached his craft and even the possibility of love.
For a plot with so many possibilities it's ironic that everything ends up feeling so trapped.
The only thing that remotely apporaches magic here is the lovely Ronan, who pulls every card from under her sleeve and gives a rich, if sometimes obnoxiously mature, performance that within itself reminds us that a magician's biggest aid are his secrets.

1 comment:

Michael Parsons said...

I see another blogger will soon be bowing down at the foot of Saoirse!

Cannot wait for "City of Ember"