Dir/scr: Scott Ryan. Aust.2005. 88mins

This year's Sydney Film Festival was noticeably shorton new Australian movies. The UK feature My Summer Of Love played theopening night, usually reserved for a local premiere, and three Aussiemicro-budget independents seemed tucked away at the smallest festival venue.Surprisingly, The Magician, a gangster mockumentary chilling andhilarious in equal parts, made the biggest impression with unsuspectingaudiences.

Scott Ryan's debut looks capable of spreading wide whentransferred from DV to film for its Australian release in September, is alreadyslated for the Edinburgh International Film festival in August, and is a strongand original contender for the international circuit.

A half-hour version of The Magician won BestFilm at the Melbourne Underground Film Festival (MUFF) in 2003, where Ryan wonBest Actor and Best Director. The buzz attracted producers Michele Bennett (Chopper)and Nash Edgerton, who convinced him to cut back on the comedy and strengthenthe inherent drama.

Shot guerrilla-style with available light on someunlovely Melbourne backstreet locations for A$3,000, with thewriter/director/co-producer/co-editor also playing the lead and the cameraoperator acting as well, The Magician has an intensity and power manyconventionally budgeted thrillers miss. Robustly funny, X-rated dialoguedelivered with laid-back confidence and stomach-turning nonchalance also help.

Framed as a student documentary, the film followsScott Ryan's hitman as he goes about his business in a standout performance,his lean, mean ex-army hitman a seductively unpredictable and dangerouspresence. He smiles as he efficiently ensures people disappear, and chatsconfidently, smoothly and incoherently to camera about cars, movies, crap andhis simple solution to the social problem of drug takers (shoot them all).

It's a startling debut, all the more so when youremember he's written the script and is directing the movie.

Ryan's hitman allows his appalling opinions andbrutal crimes to be filmed on the proviso that nothing can be shown until afterhis death. The Italian-accented cameraman asks puerile questions whilefollowing his subject's deadly progress, getting the framing right while thevictims dig their own graves. A tentative relationship develops between thisodd couple, as it also does between the killer and his assigned victims (thoughRyan is uninterested in the details of the hitman's professional dealings, whohires him, for how much, and why.)

Elements of a broader approach remain - includingsome unnecessary out-takes and bloopers during the end credits - and furtherjudicial editing could strengthen this undeniably gripping portrait of thebanality of evil, Aussie style.

It certainly stands comparison with that other quirkyAustralian gangster portrait, Chopper. Ryan claims inspiration from thereal Chopper Read's published memoirs, and the unsettling humour and barelyrepressed violence is much the same. And, despite his virtually non-existentbudget, Scott Ryan's violent 'magician' recalls the impact of Eric Bana'sequally seductive and unsettling character.

Production companies
I Will Films
Film Finance Corporation Australia
Film Victoria

International sales
Moviehouse Entertainment

Australia/New Zealand distribution

Executive producers
Gary Phillips
Mark Vennis

Michele Bennett
Nash Edgerton
Scott Ryan

Scott Ryan

Massimiliano Andrighetto

Nash Edgerton
Kristine Rowe
Scott Ryan

Main cast
Scott Ryan
Ben Walker
Massimiliano Andrighetto
Kane Mason
Nathaniel Lindsay