The Magician

Ryan Owen 06/06/2006

Rating: 4/5

A mockumentary in the vein of Man Bites Dog and The Last Horror Movie with the cracking comedy that breathes in Chopper.

The director, who stars here as Ray Shoesmith, is a hitman earning his living and, as the title suggests, a magician by making bodies disappear. On his journey of knocking off several marks, he is filmed by driver Max (Andrighetto), who is also making a documentary about him, to be released only upon his death.

Scott Ryan, in his own words, “tells this story in a way that no-one has told it before,” bringing a refreshing angle to a seemingly overused concept.

As well as directing, here he acts giving an understated performance, which is uncomforting, as we get a sense that he could exercise violence at any moment. It is hard to sympathise with a character that can be this cold, but the conversations between him and other characters can be endearing.

These conversations heavily rely on improvisation, but this doesn't affect the pacing and it doesn't drag. In fact when one can sense the ending, in turn, one doesn't want that end to come that quickly. The editing is also very accomplished, considering this a debut from Ryan. At times it builds with gripping suspense, at others it shocks us with a highly unexpected execution.

In the hands of many other filmmakers, this would be highly stylized, with the romanticised violence and gratifying slow-motion sequences of execution, but not here. Instead, this is highly character-driven and through the manner of filming one believes the characters and their situations.

One hostage, Tony (Ben Walker), is particularly endearing, and the audience is never sure as to whether he will live or die. This is repeated, just after a shit-eating, yes a shit-eating dialogue when Edna (Nathaniel Lindsay), conversely to Tony, is executed in real-time which makes it all the more chilling.

The style of filming is reminiscent of Wolf Creek and the Dogma 95 movement, making use of natural light and real locations, all filmed with a handheld camera. The camera, as with The Blair Witch Project, is an intermediary between the two characters, with Max always behind the camera as a moral judge. By doing so, it's more a fictionalised documentary than a mockumentary.

Don't let this put you off. The Magician is far from bleak and the dark comedy within it is some of the best seen in recent times on the silver screen. Upon repeated viewings, The Magician is even better. This is the work of a very gifted filmmaker.