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I recently saw the world premier of this film at the Sydney Film Festival and I admit I wasn't expecting much. It was dubbed as some kind of Chopper-like film with no budget, no known cast and shot on the streets. I was surprised to find it quite entertaining and a real relief from the mostly poor uninspired films currently being made within the Australian Film Finance system. 'The Magician' has a real edge and it has one element lacking in most of the cinema produced in Australia, a strong, genuinely funny lead in writer/director Scott Ryan. Shot in digital video this is a mocumentary on Ray Shoestring, a Melbournian hit-man, a man that makes people disappear. We following him on his exploits see the reality of this profession. Full of improvised dialog and shot in a raw, realist style, you get an insight into the mind of a flawed killer. The character takes his time on camera, you see him thinking and he becomes disturbingly real. The funniest film I've seen come out of my native country in years. Its interesting to note, according to Scott, it was filmed in ten days on a self raised AU$3000. It is a testimate to the passion of the Australian filmmaker making what he can without the need for 'developement' money and 5 - 8 years of 'writing'. It's the most inpiring self funded work I've seen since Robert Rodriguez filmed 'El Mariachi' for $US6000 in 1991.
The movie began with hand-held shots of a man sitting in his darkened
car explaining to the camera that he's going to follow the bloke into
the garage and then "give him the good news", and that he does.
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.
This is the best Australian film I have seen in a long time. I saw it
as part of the Sydney Film Festival 2005. It was made by Melbourne
filmmaker Scott Ryan. He shot it over ten days over two years. It cost
him about $3000 to make.
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.
When Melbourne hit-man Ray Shoesmith discovers that his next-door neighbour is a film student, he commissions him to document his life - the footage is to be released à la Pauline Hanson in the event of his early death. Australian filmmaker Scott Ryan is writer, director and star of The Magician. It's not the violence that Ryan focuses on, but the conversation, the banalities and intensities of human interaction and obsessive interest in detail. The film shows us what makes Ray tick as we witness first hand his brutal efficiency. It's a fake documentary played straight. It's darkly comic and totally draws you in, to the point where you wonder if it's real. It's Ryan's marvellous performance that serves as the glue that holds everything together. His character is a killer, a man who'd as soon pull the trigger as not, but without smoothing out any of the rough edges the actor makes you like him when what you should be feeling is utter loathing. And that's no small achievement. Scott Ryan has a gift for the Aussie vernacular that ensures his remarkable debut (think Chopper meets Spinal Tap) is destined for cult status.
The Magician was brilliant. Kudos to Scott Ryan! His portrayal of the
"thinking man's" hit man really drew me in and had me slapping my knee
and laughing out loud throughout the movie. With a budget of AU$400,000
(miniscule by Hollywood standards), a refreshing lack of special
effects, car chases, explosions and the like, the super funny dialogue
and utter moral conviction of hired heavy, Ray Shoesmith, transforms
this diamond in the rough into a jewel of a film.
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.
Scott Ryan has fashioned a spectacular debut film on literally the
sniff of a wet rag. The Magician displays a level of ingenuity and
confidence rarely seen in the Australian film industry. This film
certainly makes a mockery of all the crud that has been churned out
lately with significant AFC funding.
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.
Although it isn't magic he uses, not unless you count a count as a
wand. He is a hit-man, working in Melbourne, and this documentary style
film recounts a few of his jobs. The condition imposed on film-maker
Max is that he won't release the film until after Ray's death.
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.
The Magician is not as bad as some boring reviewer said it is. I didn't feel a lull at any point in the film and thought there were undercurrents of depth to do with Melbourne drug culture and dealing. The mundanity of it. The darkness. And a lead who is surprising in many ways. "A fascinating and attractive man" as Max says! Of course, you really do need to be familiar with Melbourne to get the street scenes. And Australian to understand conversations about Big M's and Wayne Carey. And is there anything wrong about making films for ourselves? And is there anything wrong with a filmmaker just getting out there and making something with no money, to get some experience, all for the love of it? NO! I hope this gives Scott Ryan a good go in the industry.
This is an amazing piece of filming, original made as a "short" by
Scott Ryan, who was talked into making it into a full-length feature.
Written, directed and the main actor Scott Ryan made this film a budget
of $3,000. Australian Dollar. Awards and film festivals: Australian
Film Critics association Awards 2005: Nominated: Best Actor In A Lead
Role (Scott Ryan) Cinematic intelligence Agency Trenchcoat Awards 2005:
Nominated: Best Australian film Edinburgh International film Festival
2005: World Première If Awards 2005: Nominated: best Actor (Scott
Ryan), Independent Spirit (Scott Ryan, Michele Bennett, Nash Edgerton)
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
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
In the same mould as Clerks, we follow the life of hit-man Ray, who
prides himself on making people disappear. Set in a period where
underworld violence was big news in Melbourne, this movie attempts to
give an insight into the people behind the crime and not the crime
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.
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