The Magician is a low budget film from Australia about a film student who documents the life of a hitman. This is an excellent debut feature from writer/actor/director Scott Ryan which is full of dark humour and charm.
We follow Ray Shoesmith, an accomplished hitman based in Melbourne as he goes about his business. He is filmed by his neighbour Max, whom we never get to see on camera. The film is mostly made up of conversations and musings between Ray and Max who have an obvious rapport with each other. Along the way we encounter some of Ray´s contracts and some of his friends (often the same thing).
The documentary style is rigidly enforced and the camera is always handheld. At first this is slightly grating but as the film draws you in it helps to bring the characters to life and adds a realistic feel to the events. Ray is clearly not a bad guy and despite his willingness to kill for money he is a very charismatic character. Ray´s attitude to his job is workmanlike and he doesn´t dwell on or seem to take pleasure in the act of murder itself. It simply isn´t personal for him. Max is more perplexing, in that you have to wonder why he is so unfazed by the violence and why he is willing to film Ray´s escapades.
The movie was made for just $3,000 a budget which puts most cinematic releases to shame. Ryan explained that he saved most of the money from his student loan and this strikes me as a great way to spend it. The actors are all amateur, except for Max, and they were all friends at film school. These natural and easy relationships really come across on film and the loosely scripted action which was heavily ad-libbed gives the film a really convincing air.
The film was shot on digital video and it looked great on the big screen, if a little dark in places. Ryan´s vision is very well-realised and his talents are apparent so it will be interesting to see what he comes up with next. The narrative is non-linear and the various threads of story are edited together in quite a random fashion, because the subtle humour is weaved in throughout this style really gives the characters some depth and it never feels dry or boring.
Ultimately Ray is a flawed killer, a little bit haphazard in his methods and you´re never sure what he´s about to do. The acting of Ryan was crucial for this character to work and indeed for the whole film to work and luckily he is an excellent actor who portrays a cheeky Aussie bloke who happens to be a killer with complete conviction. The rest of the cast are all very good, they play their parts well and the style suits a laidback delivery. The rapport they each have with one another allows the humour to come through more subtly and their inane conversations can hardly fail to raise a wry grin with the audience.
This will be compared to Chopper, an Australian film from a few years ago about real life psycho and self-styled vigilante Mark Brandon Read. Apparently Read saw the film at the Sydney Film Festival and loved it. There are definite parallels between the character of Ray and that of Chopper, most appealingly the disarming charm and humour. However while Chopper was a fairly graphically violent piece this film doesn´t resort to gore or concentrate too heavily on the actual murders which somehow seems to add some authenticity to proceedings.
The Magician is a refreshing and clever piece of film making. This is inspirational work from Scott Ryan in his first feature film and well deserving of a large audience. A well observed and humorous movie which proves that you don´t need a huge budget to make a great piece of entertainment.