Ray is a thug. A professional debt collector, brutal enforcer and sometimes executioner. Max - his neighbour - is a German film student making a documentary about Ray's life as a entrepreneur of violence. Opening with the cold, calm shooting of a man leaving his car, we meet the magician; he makes people disappear...

Ray spends his days walking the streets of Melbourne, roughing up drug dealers, whacking them where necessary and explaining his somewhat skewed worldview. Max prompts him to discuss every aspect of the crimes they are engaged in as well as every facet of the rest of his life, getting caught up in the day-to-day minutia of his routine, discussing everything from body disposal to the best price for a hitman's tools, but the dialogue also rolls around to more casual topics, such as the ultimate automobile and Ray's children. The camera follows them on a road trip to find blood money, execute the mercy killing of a junkie and retrieve Max's stolen VCR.

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At first glance, The Magician closely resembles the Belgian cult classic Man Bites Dog, where filmmakers, shooting a documentary on a serial killer, slowly become complicit with his crimes. However, Scott Ryan's film feels very different, much more even. From the outset, we know that Ray isn't insane, he's just doing his job to the best of his abilities. and Max isn't just a filmmaker, he's also Ray's friend. The film feels grittily authentic at times and like a comic road movie at others. Shaky camerawork and concerned director's comments make it feel like you are watching a genuine low budget documentary, but you can only take it so seriously when they start to discuss how much it would cost to make someone eat a bowl of shit. Its sense of humour is dark - there's a lot of nervous laughter - but not as bleakly shocking as Reny Belvaux's film and the overall effect is more plausible because of it. Ryan is perfect as the vicious, almost likeable skinhead Ray and Massimiliano Andrighetto's Werner Herzog-like director is often hilarious. For a film shot in 10 days on a budget of around $3000, it's quite an achievement.

It may not be particularly original, but this shoestring budget mocumentary is very entertaining and well worth watching.

Reviewed on: 19 Aug 2005
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Documentary filmmaker follows a Melbourne thug about his business.
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Read more The Magician reviews:

Jennie Kermode ****
Paul Griffiths ***

Director: Scott Ryan

Writer: Scott Ryan

Starring: Scott Ryan, Massimiliano Andrighetto, Ben Walker, Kane Mason, Nathaniel Lindsay, Adam Ryan

Year: 2005

Runtime: 85 minutes

Country: Australia

Festivals:

EIFF 2005

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