Edinburgh Film Fest Report: The Magician

Todd Brown, Founder and Editor

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Checking in once again from Edinburgh, here's Richard Brunton with his take on tiny budgeted Australian crime comedy The Magician.

This is one of the films I went to see during the 2005 Edinburgh Film Festival on a whim, seeing an empty space one day I decided to select a movie that was playing to fill it. I could have gone and selected some of the movies I haven't seen from the videoDVD library that they have, but what the hell I thought, the Festival is all about taking risks and seeing new things.

So the movie began, with handheld 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!

The Magician is an interesting tale of a filmmaker who makes a documentary of hitman 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.

The film 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 intruiging, 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 hitman 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 hitman 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 arguementative approach with the character. It didn't sit well for me with the image of a hitman. 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.

Review by Richard Brunton.

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