Release Date: July 11
Director: Gillian Armstrong
Writers: Tony Grisoni, Brian Ward
Cinematographer: Haris Zambarloukos
Starring: Catherine Zeta-Jones, Guy Pearce, Saoirse Ronan
Studio/Run Time: The Weinstein Company, 97 mins.
Every now and then, films come out in waves.
One year it feels like all Hollywood wants to churn out is disaster movies, the
next, superhero sequels.
In 2006, The Prestige
, The Illusionist
all centered around stage magicians and were geared towards the art-house
Focusing on the end of Harry
Houdini’s (Guy Pearce) life, Death
could have been lumped into that group and no one would have
batted an eye.
plays a vaudeville medium looking to swindle $10,000 off Houdini by telling him
what his mother spoke to him on her deathbed.
During this attempt they fall in love, much to the bemusement of Houdini’s
manager and the medium’s child.
Few will argue that Death
Defying Acts is a bad film.It’s
competently acted, competently directed and, given the constraints of its
story, competently written.But
excepting experimental films, plot is a key reason we watch movies. Without
an interesting one, an hour and a half of competent filmmaking becomes about an
hour and 25 minutes of boredom.
What separates Death
Defying Acts from its predecessors is that the earlier films all had a
focus on plot that drove characters’ interior quests forward and let magic act as
a metaphor for dealing with reality.Death Defying Acts forgets this aspect
and, for better or for worse, throws all of its interest at characters.If the plot sounds in summary mostly like an
excuse for a typical period melodrama, that’s because the magic and mysticism
is merely a MacGuffin for telling the film's conventional love story.
Because of this, the characters are well-conceived, and, additionally,
well-acted.But with so little story
behind them, their minor dalliances never become important enough on their own
to warrant interest.Likewise, the film
is very well-shot and at moments, beautiful, but nevertheless extremely sterile. Gillian Armstrong once again (Little Women) has an effortless
gift for composition, but her reliance on this makes Death Defying Acts feel like it’s on autopilot.It takes an incredible level of craftsmanship
to achieve this feeling, but here, this hands-off approach fails to inject
passion where it in such dire need.