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The Magician (Australia,2006)


Director: Scott Ryan       Starring: Scott Ryan, Ben Walker, Massimiliano Andrighetto

Mockumentary movies are not a new idea and certainly not a rarity. Shooting with a handheld camera and minimal production design is an economical way to make a movie and an obvious access to filmmaking for newcomers to the business who are on a tight budget. As such it is a genre saturated with first timers (both cast and crew) of varying degrees of ability and films of unpredictable quality.

The Magician is the first (and to date only) feature film from writer/director Scott Ryan who also happens to play the lead, underworld hitman and presumed “Magician” of the title, Ray Shoesmith. Staged as a documentary being made by Ray’s friend and neighbour Max, it follows Ray as he goes about his grizzly business, disposing of various members of the criminal underworld at the behest of unseen and largely irrelevant clients. As it progresses, Max becomes more and more embroiled in Ray’s activities, blurring the line between observer and participant.

It’s not a bad film. Delivered with a dark sense of humour there are some genuinely good moments, especially between Ray and his victims as they attempt to convince him not to follow through on his intended course of action. It’s biggest obstacle is not the amateur cast (who are actually all pretty good), the handheld single camera shooting (which achieves the amateur documentary feel perfectly) or Ryan’s script (which has enough wit to act as a foil for the stark violence). It’s biggest obstacle is the fact that it isn’t very original. The most obvious comparison is to the 1992 Belgian film Man Bites Dog, a documentary style black comedy about a filmmaker following a serial killer as he sets about his victims. It’s a clear inspiration in terms of both content and style which would be less of an issue if Man Bites Dog wasn’t a superior film to this one.

That isn’t to say that The Magician doesn’t have its charms. Ray (Ryan) is a surprisingly likeable fellow who likes to think he has morals despite his usavoury career. Principled in his own way he approaches his work with diligence and a dry wit but always seems to be hanging on the edge of a psychotic rage. His better nature occasionally pokes through the cold blooded facade, trying to give people the benefit of the doubt where possible and even going so far as to encourage a potential victim to skip town so as to avoid his inevitable fate. At a hinted at back story we learn he was once in the army and was discharged for reasons he seems reluctant to talk about but which clearly have influenced his current lifestyle.

Ray is at his absolute best when he is seen dealing with those who have incurred his professional wrath. A large part of the running time is concerned with a protracted encounter with a low level drug dealer called Tony who brokers a deal with the hitman to spare his life. The grim reality of this situation is balanced with comedic touches and serves to highlight the main difference between this and Man Bites Dog. Ray’s victims are members of the criminal fraternity who have presumably angered fellow gangsters or their bosses in some way and so it’s easy to laugh as they face their fate. In Man Bites Dog the killer preys on the innocent and infirm for personal pleasure. The result is a much more lightweight film with less to say about the motivations that drive people to kill. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing but it does limit the experience a little.

All in all then it’s an entertaining if somewhat throwaway piece of entertainment. It’s not a bad effort for first time filmmakers on a shoestring budget and is miles better than some examples of faux documentary films but it is also highly derivative and doesn’t bring anything particularly new and original to the genre but for fans of hitman movies and slightly twisted humour it will certainly hit the spot.


2 Comments leave one →
  1. gwen permalink
    25/06/2011 09:35

    I liked it! rays matter of factness makes it even funnier. ‘I wouldn’t eat someone else’s shit, cause it’s not my shit!’

    I could get into mockumentries!

    • 25/06/2011 12:32

      I quite liked it too, but the similarities to Man Bites Dog were a little too glaring for my liking. It’s certainly amusing and entertaining (not to mention highly quotable) in its own right but I just kept thinking I should have been watching Man Bites Dog instead.

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