Death Defying Acts
Freely mixing historical fact with fictionalised biography, this Brit-Aussie co-production turns on a fascinating premise: a battle of wits and wills between world-famous escapist and sceptic of all things supernatural Harry Houdini (Guy Pearce) and a Scots conwoman posing as a psychic. When Houdini arrives in Edinburgh on the European leg of his world tour, still grieving over the death of his beloved mother, and announces he’ll pay a small fortune to anyone who can put him in touch with her, Mary McGarvie (Catherine Zeta-Jones) and her daughter Benji (Atonement’s Saoirse Ronan) sense a soft touch. But Mary’s scheme looks like coming undone when the scam artist and the escape artist fall for one another.
Co-scripted by Tony Grisoni (Tideland, Brothers of the Head) and directed by Gillian My Brilliant Career Armstrong, the film’s got some creditable talent attached to it. And for Scottish audiences there’s the added attraction of seeing Edinburgh locations used as a handsome backdrop to a tall tale set in the capital in 1926. Interesting as all that sounds, though, Death Defying Acts is surprisingly dull. While it’s decently acted, neither the scam nor the romance is developed and Armstrong’s direction is strangely flat. Co-funded by the BBC, it feels like an underachieving Sunday teatime drama.
Selected release from Fri 8 Aug.