The Magician (I) (2005)
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The Magician is a movie written, directed, produced and edited by Scott Ryan, oh, and he plays the lead as well. Reportedly he did so on a budget of only 3,000 Australian dollars and in only ten days, although reports suggest that he spent something in the region of five years writing it! It's an interesting tale of a filmmaker who makes a documentary of hit-man Ray Shoesmith and a few of his "marks", and that's really about all there is to it. Yet it turns out to be rather fun.
It begins darkly and the latter half presents a more sobering tone, but the mid section is more about clever dialogue which, at times, can be extremely funny. Scenes such as the bet between the film maker and Ray if Clint Eastwood was in The Dirty Dozen, where Ray opens the boot to get the mark to list the actors are absurdly funny, and this is a pattern which follows for most of the lighter middle part of the film. However the darker sections are the more intriguing, the filming of the man digging his own grave in the middle of nowhere, Ray sitting explaining his planned hit in the darkened car, these scenes are thoroughly absorbing.
It's in these darker scenes that I find the comic moments work the best, when the film maker and hit-man are chatting about some stupidly funny topic and then he turns to kill someone. The contrast of the normality of the situation and the friendship and banter that these two characters have built up with the inhuman, violent acts of the hit-man show the complexity of the character and the fact that he is normal just with a very unusual side! There's even the compelling caring side of Ray that appears when he tries to help the film maker get his stolen gear back. Listening to his somewhat late bout of morality as he pleads not to hurt the thief is actually very amusing, particularly Ray's face and calm manner when he returns after asking politely and being told to get lost. This scene, and Ray's reaction is just superb.
Ryan takes over the movie and steals the show wonderfully, he's utterly engaging in front of the camera, and his slow, drawn out, casual style gives a natural performance. Although it's fair to say that at the beginning of the movie it takes a little while for both he, and the audience, to get into the stride of the movie.
For me the natural side of the movie is pulled back by the performance of Massimiliano Andrighettowho plays the film maker, Max "Massimo" Totti. Considering the situation and the acts he's witnessing Ray commit, I found it hard to accept his open and often argumentative approach with the character. It didn't sit well for me with the image of a hit-man. I forever thought that Ray's patience would break and he would stop idle arguing with him to either kill him or beat him to shut up, yet perhaps this shows the measured and calculating Ray. Yet I could just not grapple with the idea that the film maker would be so fearless.
This movie is about the superbly written dialogue and the very well acted Ray. However it tries to be a bit too comic for my tastes, and with the darker element attached it seems to be confused as to what story it really wants to tell. Very reminiscent of the banter and connection in the film Chopper, yet for me that pulled off the mixture of comic and darkness far better. Still entertaining though, and some of the dialogue will stay with you after you leave the cinema. Dark humour indeed.
The Magician is a very funny mockumentary about a hit-man, Ray. The film is really nothing more than a series of vignettes which show Ray carrying out his occupation and chatting with the documentary filmmaker, Max. This film really should have been an exercise in boredom. However, The Magician manages to be one of the most entertaining Australian films to see the light of day in a long time, almost entirely due to the efforts of writer/director/actor Scott Ryan. Scott Ryan is mesmerising as Ray. This character manages to be abhorrent, hilarious and strangely moral without ever slipping into parody. As well as making a convincing hit-man, Ray is also the perfect mouthpiece for Ryan's witty jabs at everything from the legalisation of drugs, to the prevalence of gays in Hollywood.
One of the most enjoyable aspects of the film for me is that it is so Australian-centric, for want of a better word. This film isn't trying to imitate Tarantino (like ever other debut film featuring a gun fight), nor is it making a desperate grab for international attention, like most of the dreary "quirky" (i.e. crap) comedies receiving funding from the government. The result is a highly distinctive film that feels completely original.
There are a couple of minor problems with the film that most likely stem from the tiny budget. With the exception of Scott Ryan's fine performance, and perhaps Ben Walker's engaging turn as Tony, the other actors are clearly amateurs. The character of Max is also somewhat perplexing. There is no explanation for his rather amoral and perversely non-judgemental approach to documentary film-making. The extensive use of Max's hand-held camera is also somewhat disorientating to begin with. My biggest complaint would have to be the film's ending, which seems forced and came around much too quickly.
I'm glad that films like The Magician can still get made in this country and I hope that it works as a calling card for the outrageously talented Scott Ryan. I'm really perplexed why it (or "Wolf Creek" for that matter) didn't win a swag of AFI awards. I guess that both films made the mistake of actually being entertaining.
The key to this film is STORY. Admittedly it took me about 10 minutes to really appreciate what I was watching, but then it got me. The story is quite simple - following hit-man, Ray Shoesmith, as he goes about business and chats about the industry he's in... it is dark - but the character, his dialogue, his way of thinking are so Australian and although quite funny at times, are also totally logical (well mostly logical). The character has quite the infectious smile too.
At the end of the screening, Scott Ryan and producers Michelle Bennett and Nash Edgerton (who both came on after the film had been shot) did a Q & A. When Scott was asked if he thought the film would have been better with more money behind it, he said probably yes - but only in the sense that it would have allowed him to do more in the film, which he couldn't afford to do otherwise. Michelle Bennett then stepped up stated that she believes the key to this film is its story and its performances. I agree, they were exceptional and it is highly unlikely that money could have improved them.
The film is edgy and occasionally jarring. As mentioned the performances are very well executed, particularly by Scott who (besides also being the writer and director) plays main character Ray. His acting is subtle and Scott doesn't rush to deliver his performance - he lets us see Ray think about things - pondering his thoughts and actions, it was really very impressive. The supporting cast was also excellent particularly Massimiliano Andrighetto who was also the films' cinematographer.
This film is proof that here in Australia we do have some great stories to tell. Stories which go beyond an Aussie Battler struggling through life before he eventually (despite being a little on the slow side) triumphs at the end of the film. While Ray (in THE MAGICIAN) and I may not have a great deal in common, I recognised him. Knew his character, understood his way of thinking (a unique Australian way of thinking) and loved that I was watching a really original and very different Australian story to those I usually see at the cinema. I loved it, it kept me interested, made me laugh out loud and I can not wait to see it again. Highly recommended.
The Magician, sure to attract a cult following, hopefully provides a platform from which writer/actor/producer, Scott Ryan, can entertain and delight us with further projects.
It is a strange film, but very enjoyable. The style is used to allow Max to question Ray about his actions. To have an outsider looking in wondering can Ray tone down the violence, or how much would he want in order to eat his own excrement. Did I forget to mention this is a comedy? The focus of the film is all on Ray. The rest of the characters are just their to provide him with something to interact with. And Max, the cameraman is never shown un-pixelated on screen, to protect his identity from the police no doubt. And Scott Ryan gives an excellent performance as the almost charming hit-man. His sense of timing is perfect and his delivery of the lines is spot-on. Of course he did write and direct it, so he should know everything about this character, but it is still a wonderful role.
It is almost a buddy road movie, with Ray, Max and a possible target traveling across Australia to locate some money. There is a great discussion about Wayne Carey and whether sleeping with your vice-captain's wife could ever be regarded as merely a mistake. Probably more likely to turn out to be a cult hit than a blockbuster, if you get the chance you should try to catch this film.
Why this film wasn't publicised and advertised to the hilt is beyond my understanding. It is totally fascinating and crosses all age barriers. How can you so like a man who's profession is "Hitman" Witty and so matter-of-fact that you don't realise that you are empathising with a professional killer. You like him. 10/10
Just like Clerks, the characters debate trivial facts - such as Clint Eastwood's CV, the price of eating faeces - and it is in these conversations that we discover Ray's personality. On the opposite end of the spectrum, Scott Ryan (scriptwriter, directer and star) has restricted what we discover about Ray. We don't hear Ray justifying his line of work and we certainly don't find out the fate of his target, Tony (who offers to pay off Ray), almost until the end.
Whilst the minimalistic feel of the photography may make some cringe, it certainly adds to the situation of the movie. The real winner in this movie is in the script and it's delivery. Without seeming to over-act, Ryan and Ben Walker's Tony give a realistic depiction of the situation.
Scott Ryan has created an debut that (with a four figure budget) has fascinated Australian film-goers and kept us wondering what's next.
This movie is so well executed it could have been done by Ray the hit man, you'll never find the body.
Come on Australia, this guy is a major talent. Don't let him go to waste.
The whole idea first sounds bizarre, and it is. Ray is not your slick "in and out without a trace" type of hit-man. This man feels like the real deal, he kills people in a violent and realistic way often by simply shooting them at pointblank and then hiding the body in the woods.
Nothing about Ray's life is amazing or exciting, he eats burgers, he is not cool, he doesn't drop amazing punchlines before he hits someone or plants a bullet in their face. It reminds me a bit of a danish film called Pusher. It's the same kind of "vibe".
The keyword for this movie would be realistic. The whole thing feels VERY real, and the actors are doing an amazing job.
If we break it down not everyone will love this movie, it's very different, very different.
I find it hard to express what an achievement this film is. Scott Ryan- writer, director, producer *and* lead actor- pulls off a remarkable debut. His grizzly and hypnotic performance is frighteningly real. The depth of Ray Shoestring is a testament to the all-round skills of Scott Ryan. We can't help but feel close to Shoestring, even though we are left in no doubt about his dubious character. A large part of our sympathy with Shoestring is that, in true Big Brother diary-room style, all his thoughts, prejudices and passions are laid bare before the camera.
"The Magician" is unusual in that it focuses less on the joy-riding, gun-toting, blow-things-upping side to being a hit-man, and more on the less glamorous sitting-around-in-a-car-and-eating-hamburgers element of assassinhood.
A stunning debut *not* to be missed. 8/10
To my mind, the strength of this movie is the characterisation. Scott Ryan is a marvelous character - the antithesis of the wine-drinking, PC, environmentally-conscious middle-class intellectual elite of the Howard years. His accent is broad, he likes his 'chewy' and his 'Big M'. I was transfixed by the way he drank his McCoffee all up while seeming to wince with every mouthful.
I don't want to make this a long boring review so I'll just make some final last observations: the crew double as cast in most if not all cases; stay for the end of "I'll Be Gone" by Spectrum and one last out-take after the credits are finished; Ryan has clearly been influenced by *Pulp Fiction* (and why not?).
In recent times, films have been taking that step of raising life mundane aspects into a form of entertainment. The magician runs off a series of non-interconnected conversation, small banter, that ultimately has no end game; it doesn't bring much insight into the people we are watching. Gay actors, what car would you most want to own, would you eat your own excrement, Mardi Gras, etc. The dark humor that is entwined into these conversation stop The Magician failing into redundancy. Tiffs over how a dead man walking digs his own grave is nothing short of devilish. The problem with the conversations is they lack a lot of consistency. While many grab your attention, other fall flat and become mundane; much to the subject matter.
For a hit-man, Ray is one unorthodox professional. Writer/director Scott Ryan spins the image of a hit-man from a suave, professional assign to an everyday Australian who you wouldn't pick from the crowd. Ryan never portrays Ray as an antihero, nor tries to make you feel sympathy for him, as he is an amoral person, in a amoral profession.
Also taking the lead as Ray, Scott Ryan brings so much charisma to Ray. There is such a presence he holds, you don't want to miss a word he says. At times you are just wondering what is going on in his head. Ben Walker as Tony and Nathaniel Lindsay as Edna both give solid performances; both being amateur actors.
The Magician does have it flaws, though they are overcome by some very interesting conversations with one strange man.
Ray Shoesmith is a hit-man from Melbourne. His friend is making a documentary about him, as a sort of memento just in case he kicks the bucket a bit too soon. We follow Ray doing what he does. There are a few story lines woven through each other, with the mayor storyline focusing on a guy Ray is supposed to kill. Things take a different turn though and what starts out as a simple job ends up to be a bit more complicated.
Instead of having it's main focus on violence, The Magician is much more about dialogue. And many of those dialogues are truly hilarious. Not in a typical comedy way, but the humor is much more in the normality of conversations between friends and conversations just to kill some time. Still, despite the humor and lightheartedness of some conversations, there is always that dark undertone. For example, at one point some fast food has to be ordered, which is quite an amusing scene. But at the same time, you don't forget that one of the guys is still Ray's mark. This makes it exciting all the way. At times you would almost think of Ray as just a normal chap, but certain scenes in the movie make clear that we do deal with someone who is a cold-blooded hit-man. The contrast between those sides of Ray is always there and make him a very believable character. He's charming, at times sensitive, but also a merciless killer, and often oh so real.
Ray is brilliantly portrayed by director Scott Ryan himself. The acting is perfect, his performance outstanding. Some of Ray's facial expressions are worth gold.
It;s quite a while ago since a movie really had me laughing out loud. I honestly can not find anything negative to say about The Magician. I can only say that this movie is absolutely worth your time and money. If you manage to get your hands on it, watch it. If you have a good sense of humor you definitely won't regret it. Kudos, Mr Ryan!
This film tries to give the impression that it is a documentary following in the footsteps of a Melbourne hit man named Ray Shoesmith as he goes about his business: killing people. The documentary maker Massimo Totti follows Shoesmith around asking question and filming murders.
In one key scene that typifies the whole movie, Shoesmith and Totti are driving in a car at night through the Victorian countryside with a drug dealer in handcuffs locked in the boot of the car. Shoesmith and Totti are arguing about whether or not Clint Eastwood was in The Dirty Dozen. Shoesmith stops the car, opens the boot with gun in hand and asks the captive in the boot if Clint Eastwood is in the movie. This is basically what the entire film is about: showing a hit-man and his victims casually talking and discussing pointless and irreverent topics like their favourite cars, football players and what they want on their hamburgers. Other glib scenes involve Shoesmith telling Totti that he's not going to share a bed with him in a motel if he takes his pants off. Scenes like this, of meandering vacant ramblings, are given a large amount of time in the movie, and my guess is they're supposed to be funny scenes. Other lengthy scenes involve Totti asking Shoesmith how much money would he have to be paid before he would eat human excrement and why has he never been to the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras. 85% of the film is made up of scenes like this and frankly it gets really boring.
Scott Ryan gives a decent performance as Ray Shoesmith, but there is a problem which affects the whole movie. There are no characters or characterisations in this film. The characters are portrayed as superficially and rather clichéd. There is no depth in this film whatsoever. In this "documentary" we never learn why Shoesmith is a hit-man, we never learn who he kills and why or how he feels about it, we never learn who he works for and we certainly never learn what makes him tick. All we get to find out about him is that he hasn't the slightest conscience of killing people (in fact the whole thing means very little to him) and he thinks he's rather funny. He indulges in inane chit chat about pointless topics. I think what Scott Ryan is trying to do here is make a joke, the one joke this film is about: a hit-man who is an average bloke who talks about mundane things.
Unfortunately it fails on almost all fronts. In fact, its the worst aspects of 3 different types of cinema. It's not particularly funny, it doesn't work as a 'documentary' because you learn nothing slightly interesting or fascinating about the characters nor do you gain any insight when you see them or him in action, and the acting is so unnatural that it comes across in some parts as a bad improvisation game, it doesn't work as a gangster film because the majority of the film is spent on dull conversation.
This film is called the Magician because obviously like Shoesmith's dead bodies (which you never see but he does talk about) he makes things disappear, however a Hit Man knows how to hit his target, something this film certainly failed to do.