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The Magician

Year: 2005
Director: Scott Ryan
Producer: Nash Edgerton, Michele Bennett
Writer: Scott Ryan
Cast: Scott Ryan
The mockumentary is the dream come true of some filmmakers. What better way to characterise, poke fun at or bring to life a personality or institution without having to rely on chance (complete with true-to-life realism).

From the work of Christopher Guest (A Mighty Wind, Best in Show, This is Spinal Tap) to The Blair Witch Project, few genres give us the same sense that we're privileged witnesses to an incredible, scary or funny series of events, and if they transport us out of the knowledge that what we're watching is completely staged, they've done their job.

Ray (director, writer and star Ryan) is an average Victorian bloke. He could be a brickie, handyman or bicycle courier. With his rough working man exterior and the vernacular of a modern Australian urbanite, we're introduced to Ray wondering what makes him so special. That is until we see his latest job - gunning a guy down dead in his garage.

Ray is being followed by documentarian Max, who's making a film about his life and times; what makes him tick, why he does what he does and how he ended up a professional killer. Slightly less a professional than Ray is however, Max is just as happy buying lunch for Ray and his next (captured) victim and asking how much Ray would have to be paid before he'd eat a bowl of excrement.

We follow Ray on two or three jobs, in candid conversation and making his way around the seedy Melbourne landscape that comprises his world. All shot on handheld DV, it's nothing special to look at, the voices at times muffled, the sound effects all in camera and the picture disconcertingly dark.

What makes The Magician (he makes people disappear, get it?) stand out is all performance. An untrained actor, Ryan brings a sardonic, brilliantly subtle, at times brutally scary and extremely funny guy (and his colourful circumstances) to life.

Driving through the dark bush in the middle of the night with an intended victim shoved in the boot, Ray and Max get into an argument about whether Clint Eastwood was in The Dirty Dozen. Unconvinced, Ray pulls over to ask the guy huddled and handcuffed in the boot. It sounds ridiculously farcical, but Ryan plays it all with such realism - never breaking character for a second in the name of a laugh - that it works.

After writing and shooting The Magician himself for around $3000, Ryan's project screened at the Melbourne Underground Film Festival and caught the eye of produers Nash Edgerton (stuntman and brother to Joel) and Michelle Phillips, whose last film dealt with another dyed in the wool Aussie crim, Chopper, who bought the film to the FFC where it enjoyed an upgrade to the tune of $400,000.

Some movies remind us of how the story is the most important part of the medium. The reason The Magician makes that clear isn't just because it's a no-budget movie made good, but because the talents of just one man to bring that story to life are evident in every frame.

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