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  • 15
  • Crime, Drama
  • 2005
  • 85 mins

The Magician

The Magician


In Scott Ryan's low-budget debut, a Melbourne hit-man and his film student friend do different kinds of shooting


A young skinhead in a shellsuit looks straight into the camera and cheerfully describes how he will sneak into a garage, wait for the owner to enter and then "give him the good news". Shortly afterwards, he delivers a barrage of fatal gunshot wounds to his ill-fated target, before giving a jocular thumbs-up to the camera - it transpires that Ray Shoesmith (Ryan) is a hit-man for the Melbourne underworld, being videotaped going about his business by his friend and neighbour Massimo (Andrigetto), a film student making an amateur documentary.

What follows are three overlapping episodes from Massimo's film, and a coda. Abducted at gunpoint by Ray and made to dig his own grave in the middle of nowhere, drug dealer Tony (Walker) earns himself a temporary stay of execution after offering to show Ray the place where he has stashed away a nest-egg. Ray takes measures to ensure that Benny (Mason), an old friend turned junkie informant, leaves town for good. When Massimo complains of being robbed and insulted by local boy Edna (Lindsay), Ray decides to sort out the problem in the only way he knows how. Finally, an epilogue lays bare the conditions that have made it possible for Massimo's damning footage to be released to the public.

The Magician is so called because of its protagonist's skill at making people disappear, but the title might equally refer to Ryan's extraordinary versatility as the film's director, writer, co-producer, co-editor, and of course lead actor, as well as to his powers to conjure a credible piece of cinema from an impossibly low budget and tiny guerrilla crew. As with any cheap trick, the film's rough-and-ready packaging becomes part of its innate appeal, with the framing device of Massimo's makeshift camerawork serving as a convenient excuse for all the grainy-looking handheld DV, while at the same time bringing a certain street-level vérité to the proceedings.

What holds The Magician together is the mercurial character of Ray (performed with mesmerising intensity by Ryan so that he is now childish, now vain, now murderously vicious), and his odd-couple relationship with the unseen Massimo, who is always the voice of reason in the most surreally extreme of circumstances.

Less coherent is the narrative structure, artificially interweaving otherwise disparate stories to create an impression of depth that is not really there. The Magician always seems to be going somewhere, not least because it is largely a road movie, but while the looseness of Ryan's screenplay has given rise to some hilarious improvised dialogue, it also in the end leaves the film stranded without any satisfying pay-off or twist. Unlike the otherwise similar Man Bites Dog (1992) and The Last Horror Movie (2003), which both make great play of the uncomfortable complicity between filmmaker, subject and viewer, The Magician never really takes the paradoxes of its faux-documentary set-up anywhere particularly interesting or challenging.

Yet even if the film is ultimately on a road to nowhere, the joyously wry banter of its characters certainly keeps the journey entertaining. Whether they are discussing the cast of The Dirty Dozen, the best variety of chewing gum, the sexual indiscretions of football players, the prevalence of homosexuality amongst Hollywood stars, the cars that are on their wish list, or the true price of shit-eating, the results are always sharply funny, not least because the sheer banality of their chatter is underscored by the very real risk that Ray may at any time explode into violence. It might almost be described as Tarantino-esque, were it not for the absence of tight plotting.

Cast & Connections

  • Actor: Ben Walker, Adam Ryan, Massimiliano Andrighetto, Nathaniel Lindsay, Scott Ryan, Kane Mason
  • Director: Scott Ryan
  • Screen Writer: Scott Ryan
  • Producer: Nash Edgerton, Scott Ryan, Michele Bennett
  • Photographer: Massimiliano Andrighetto
  • Composer: Sam Petty

In a nutshell

It may lack polish but The Magician is an impressive calling card for a versatile new Australian talent.

by Anton Bitel

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