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Guy Pearce, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Timothy Spall, Saoirse Ronan, Malcolm Shields ... see more see more... , Leni Harper , Ralph Riach , Olivia Darnley , Anthony O'Donnell , Billy McColl , James Holmes , Frankey Martyn , Aileen O'Gorman , Raymond Griffiths , Shaun Mason , Tom Cotcher , Joanne Cummins , Carol Robb , Mark Carter , MacKay Crawford , Paul Grunert , Graeme McKnight , Aaron Brown , Martin Fisher , Emma Humprhies , Miles Jupp , Tim Frost , Chloe Mackie , Holly Mackie , David McKail , Maev Alexander , Richard Dean Anderson , Rod Arthur , Alan David , Lorraine Hilton , Dodger Phillips , Campbell Graham , Jack Bailey , Justin Flagg , Cloe Mackie , Silvia Lombardo , Saiorse Ronan

"Death Defying Acts" is based on the life of Harry Houdini, the fictional tale of how an escapologist fell in love with an Edinburgh woman.

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26% liked it

4,334 ratings


44% liked it

36 critics

PG, 1 hr. 36 min.

Directed by: Gillian Armstrong

Release Date: July 11, 2008

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DVD Release Date: October 28, 2008

Stats: 605 reviews

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Flixster Reviews (605)

  • July 20, 2011
    A fictitious account of Harold Houdini. It focuses on a love he has for a woman that claims to be psychic. Unfortunately the film is void of any real engagement or excitement. Zeta-Jones is fine, but never for a single second did I believe she was going to screw over Houdini. Thi... read mores left me with a rather predictable love story that I was hoping would hurry along. There was never a real sense of wonderment at Houdini's tricks, and the film tried to hard to pull away his showbiz facade. We are left with an interesting and emotionally frail man, but since it isn't juxtaposed against how he was perceived it wasn't particularly interesting. Saoirse Ronan shows why she is becoming a fantastic lead actress, but the majority of this just never peaks that high.
  • May 12, 2010
    Overall this really is a pleasant and enjoyable film, but it is incredibly typical. There is nothing particuarly special about it, nor does it do anything unexpected. It is mediocre to the very end, but at the same time decent to watch. I picked this up because Saoise Ronan was i... read moren it, and she is so young and tiny! And at the same time, she is just as great and confincing as the rest of the cast. The film is extreamely atmospheric, that is the main thing that stood out to me. Well, and the score is decent. Other than that, everything is just... okay. The story is inoffensive, the acting is decent, the direction seems competant enough, but nothing is that extraordinary. I just wish there was more to grab ahold of, to rave or whine about. I would even like some major flaws if there were some killer virtues to go with them. I had never heard of this movie until actually watching it, and I cannot help but thing that there is a reason for that. So, I really cannot say that I recommend it, but at the same time I do not NOT recommend it... It is an odd blend. The film is decent enough, but you really are wasting your time in watching it. There is nothing to make you think, or make you feel. You will not be stimulated at all.
  • June 28, 2009
    I was surprised that I have never head of this film before watching it. Overall, this was an entertaining movie. I enjoyed watching it, even thought there is not too much beneath the surface. This movie was a little drawn out at the end, but still, I thought it was better than... read more most critics have given it credit for.
  • fb721890245
    May 15, 2013
    This seemed destined for a main stream release and it has all the features of a generally popular film. For some reason, it never got that full Hollywood treatment so only a few of us got to see this mediocre gem with few shining parts.
  • August 2, 2012
    Forget Houdini, this film itself is real magic, because it made cultural distinctions disappear into thin air. As if it wasn't difficult enough to tell the difference between the English and Australians, they go off and co-produce a film together, and as if it wasn't difficult en... read moreough to tell the difference between the Scottish and Irish (Seriously, where did the distinctly Scottish growl go?), they actually went out and got an Irish to play Scottish. Well, in all fairness, it is Saoirse Ronan, and Scottish really is the closest she's gotten to Irish, yet that didn't stop her from winning at the Irish Film and Television Award. Shoot, she just claimed her fifth IFTA in a row, so I don't know if anything can stop her, except maybe "City of Ember", and even then, she still won Best "Supporting" Actress of 2008 for this film. Either she's the Katharine Hepburn of the IFTAs or Ireland seriously needs to get better performers domestically if they're having to stretch to their Irish talents' international work, in which they don't even stay Irish. Well, outside of the US, I suppose that any country will find it difficult to find a talented performer who isn't working internationally under a different accent, because the modern film industry has more foreigners pretending to be a part of the culture they've been hired into than Texas. Of course, let's not seal up the borders quite yet, because there are plenty of foreigners who do so well at other accents, among other things when it comes to acting, as this film further proves, which isn't to say that the talents behind the world of movie magic can make this film's faults disappear.

    The film has been deemed dull by many, and quite frankly, I disagree to a certain extent, surprised to find that the film is consistently eventful, if not pretty entertaining, which I suppose leaves this film to stand as a testament to the idea that engagement value and entertainment value don't always go hand-in-hand. Again, the film is lively in both writing and production, but when it comes to atmosphere, while the direction doesn't severely contradict the livliness of the film's production and writing to the point of rendering the final bland middling and bland, Gillian Armstrong doesn't spark up this film as much as he should, for although the film's being produced and structured in a mostly entertaining fashion obviously graces the effort with a certain fair degree of engagement value, Armstrong doesn't draw enough juice from the film's substance to keep engagement value consistent, let alone to deliver on things that he seriously needs to deliver on. One of the most notable aspects that Armstrong slips up on is the key chemistry between Guy Pearce and Catherine Zeta-Jones, for although our leads are strong enough for you to feel some sense of moderate spark, Armstrong doesn't entirely breathe enough romance in the air for you to fully lock into the relationship, let alone its complexities. The film's central relationship is one built on one-sided genuine romantic and one-sided ulterior motivation (And women call us men pigs) that soon finds itself battled back by ensuing emotional attachment (Okay, I guess you gals aren't all that bad), and that is a potentially engrossing relationship that's presented in a workmanlike fashion, though one that doesn't quite bite as deeply as it should, which is something that you can say about a lot of aspects in this film, as Armstrong is clearly comfortable with his own vision to the point to rendering his vision's execution a touch awkward and too workmanlike for the third party, thus leaving such other missteps as more than a couple of cliches to be brought more to attention. Really, there's not much to complain about other than what seems minor, but really, in cases such as these, minor missteps can make quite a bit of difference. The film doesn't transcend terribly far above merely decent, for although the concept and production is so strong, Armstrong's limited oomph and the resulting pronunciation of certain bland faults within this all-too come-and-go runtime of just over 90 minutes doesn't give the final product enough time or opportunity to build extensive impact, thus leaving it to run the risk of falling to the level of its director: workmanlike. However, as I said, the film's ascent to genuinely good, while slight, is still accomplished, for although Armstrong's direction stands to have more punch to it, this is still a strong enough concept and production for the film to reward, especially seeing as how it has enough strengths to back up its promises just a bit more often than not.

    Haris Zambarloukos' photography isn't radiant, though it is strong, boasting a consistently handsome glow to compliment more than a few moments of clever, slick staging that, of course, feeds what livliness there is in the film. What further sparks a fair degree of livliness in this film is, of course, the production value, for although this recreation of 1920s Britain isn't especially upstanding, it does establish the setting neatly and believably, while capturing the tone and, with the help of the aforementioned fine cinematography and energetic score work by Cezary Skubiszewski, creating a constant charm that keeps the film from descending to dull, a state many unjustly accuse this film of resting upon. Still, the film's fair amount of sprightliness goes not only brought to life by the inspiration in the production, but also the inspiration in Tony Grisoni's and Brian Ward's screenplay, which also isn't especially upstanding, partially because it's consistently tainted with the conventions that, when pronounced by Gillian Armstrong's workmanlike direction, aid in this film's nearly collapsing as generally workmanlike itself, yet remains surprisingly rather tight, with few, if any limp spots and few, if any hurried spots, as well as many high points in dialogue, humor and set piece conception that keep the film spiced up a bit and a fair distance away from limping out in pacing. With all of my complaints about Gillian Armstrong's direction not having enough bite, it definately has ambition that may haze Armstrong's final execution, but breathes into this film quite a bit of additional charm that, when married with the inspiration in the production and writing, keeps the more relatively tamed moments of the film to really win you over, and when it comes to the deeper aspects that Armstrong doesn't quite have the oomph to handle, it's still hard to not find yourself at least a little bit engaged, partially because of the script's, not especially knockout, but decent handling of the tonal shifts and establishments, and partially because of the cast, which obviously has more charmers than dramatics, yet provides a myriad of colorful personalities, whether they be primary, secondary or even tertiary, with the primaries, of course, standing out the most. Young Saoirse Ronan, like she always had before this film and continues to do to this day, steals the show, quite certainly not being presented with enough material to warrant award considerations (Except maybe at the IFTAs, because she's about the best supporting Irsh actress they could find), but still nailing that Scottish accent and incorporating her typical adorable charm to sustain your attention until we finally find that all-too rare occasion in which Ronan is presented with strong acting material to play up fairly decently. Still, as much as it's hard to not love the little rascal, whether when she's delivering charmingly or dramatically, this is grown-up time, and leads Guy Pearce and Catherine Zeta-Jones don't let you forget that, as Zeta-Jones convinces as this sly but struggling con artist, while Pearce charms, if not compels in his charismatic and sometimes dramatically inspired portrayal of the legendary escape artist, and when these two charismas meet, while their sparks go all-but washed out by Armstrong's limited inspiration, they still have enough spark between them, nevertheless, to keep the central relationship going on a workmanlike level, when really, it's the individual sparks within our leads that catch your attention the most. The final product deserves better than what Gillian Armstrong is providing, for although his direction is really never poor, it doesn't really sink its teeth too deeply into you, yet with fine production, writing and acting, the film's own bite is supported just enough to leave an impression, as well as the final product a generally rewarding one.

    To conclude this act, director Gillian Armstrong takes a much too workmanlike approach, not being firm enough in his bite to really drive home consistent entertainment value, thus tainting such key aspects as the leads' chemistry, pronouncing such subtle but, in the long run, piercing faults as conventions and leaving the overall film to run the risk of collapse into a state of merely workmanlike, yet the final product ultimately escapes from such a fate, shaking loose through fine cinematography and production designs, freeing itself through tight, snappy and altogether fairly strong writing, and finally surfacing as genuinely more compelling than not through a myriad of colorful performances, the most colorful of which being by leads Guy Pearce, Catherine Zeta-Jones and Saoirse Ronan, thus leaving "Death Defying Acts" to stand as a thoroughly entertaining and ultimately satisfying show, even if the magic isn't without a few holes.

    3/5 - Good
  • May 22, 2011
    The trailer for the film looks really good, but the film itself could have been so much better. The Prestige and The Illusionist were much better films than this one. This one lacks the style that those 2 films had. I think another director could have made this film, to be much b... read moreetter than it already is. Also I thought it was a little unfocused and needed a rewrite.

    On the positive the acting in the film is very good. Everyone is well cast. Guy Pearce does a great job as Houdini. He has a great on screen chemistry with Catherine Zeta Jones. Saoirse Ronan does a great job in this film. She has a great on screen chemistry with Jones.

    Despite the flaws and the fact that it isn't as good as The Prestige or The Illusionist, I still recommend this film, especially for the performances of Pearce, Jones, and Ronan.
  • December 17, 2010
    Interesting viewing which has nothing to do with the real events in the life of the most famous magician Harry Houdini... I'll have to say that the scenographic setup was the best part of this film. The story was intriguing letting us inside the secretive circle of con artists an... read mored magicians, and we learn that even they are not immune on everyday human feelings.

    Fraudulent psychic Mary (Catherine Zeta-Jones) uses her young daughter Benji (Saoirse Ronan) to wows the audience with her special ability and connection with the "dead". Guy Pearce as the great Houdini was supposed to be a main attraction of this cynical con-comedy which turns to romantic drama, but he failed in that attempt!

    My conclusion is that this film is entertaining but it's not something you would like to watch twice... except if you really have spared time to waste.
  • April 24, 2011
    The movie is watchable, but no big deal though. I don't know why but I cried at the end of it, it was probably from seeing Saoirse Ronan cry at the end, she's so young and so great already, she was the scene stealer in this movie.
  • June 1, 2011
    Supernatural romantic thriller. The film (a UK-Australian co-production directed by Gillian Armstrong and starring Guy Pearce and Catherine Zeta-Jones) follows the Hungarian-American escapologist Harry Houdini at the height of his career in the 1920s.Despite the beautiful epoque ... read morereconstruction and music, this is a silly film, with poor performances and boring screenplay.
  • sayers1977
    January 5, 2010
    An enjoyable fim with a nice idea behind it that doesn't quite fulfil its potential. Saying that Guy Pierce is more charismatic here than I have seen him in a while and Tim Spall is always good value for money. Zeta-Jones does a passable Scottish accent but doesn't really bring m... read moreuch to the floor. Saoirse Ronan is good as her daughter but isn't amazing (as she was in 'Atonement') but the film feels a little rushed and none of the characters seem fully developed. As illusionist films go I'd rate this above 'The Illusionist' but a long way below 'The Prestige'.

Critic Reviews

Dave Calhoun
August 8, 2008
Dave Calhoun, Time Out

All in all, it's a bit of a snore that falls back on romance when all else fails. Full Review

David Fear
July 16, 2008
David Fear, Time Out New York

Pearce's boys-adventure take on the vaudeville legend is a hoot, though not nearly as laughable as the dialogue or Zeta-Jones's pitiful attempts at basic emoting. Full Review

Gary Goldstein
July 11, 2008
Gary Goldstein, Los Angeles Times

What the film loses in momentum as the romance takes over, it gains in sex appeal as its two attractive actors make their own kind of magic. Full Review

Dana Stevens
July 11, 2008
Dana Stevens, Slate

All a 'what if' movie needs to win me over are some lush costumes and production design, a smart casting choice or two, and a really ridiculous basic idea. Death Defying Acts obliges on all fronts. Full Review

Kyle Smith
July 11, 2008
Kyle Smith, New York Post

Director Gillian Armstrong is more attentive to decor than the story, which never seems in a hurry to get anyplace in particular and concludes with a thud. Full Review

Elizabeth Weitzman
July 11, 2008
Elizabeth Weitzman, New York Daily News

Zeta-Jones and Pearce don't have much chemistry, the script lacks any significant depth and the direction feels oddly uninspired. Full Review

July 11, 2008
New York Times

Death Defying Acts, a fictionalized love story involving Harry Houdini, could be a sweet little discovery if only the relationship at the core of it were more convincing.

Scott Foundas
July 10, 2008
Scott Foundas, L.A. Weekly

This won't be remembered as one of the prodigiously talented Armstrong's great films (My Brilliant Career, High Tide, Little Women), but it's still 90 percent better than everything else out there. Full Review

Lisa Nesselson
September 8, 2007
Lisa Nesselson, Variety

Sounding intriguing enough in concept, Death misses the mark onscreen in a way adaptations of deceptively cinematic novels often do. Full Review

Rich Cline
August 8, 2008
Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall

It's a shame that the story itself feels like smoke and mirrors with nowhere to go, wanting to have its cake and eat it too. Full Review

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Death Defying Act... : Watch Free on TV

Death Defying Acts Trivia

  • Death Defying Acts- Benji (Saoirse Ronan) steals an object from the pocket of a gentleman attending the "psychic performance" she and her mother, Mary (Catherine Zeta-Jones) are a part of in order to use it in a con. My question is, what does she take?  Answer »

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