The Trick with the Gun has a lighthearted voice, but the film shouldn’t be discounted. Michael McNamara’s documentary is one of the most enjoyable and exhilarating films I’ve seen this year. Though the film is easy for us in the audience, the same can’t be said for the film’s subjects who face a deadly task.
Scott Hammel is a valiant magician whose illusions and motivational speaking have helped inspire young audiences. He also has a friendly working relationship with his writer pal Chris Gudgeon, who is quick-witted as he is neurotic. Hammel is a master of magic, but his collection of daredevil stunts stick out on his resumé. He’s skydived while performing a card trick, escaped from straitjackets upside-down, and survived underwater endurance tests, but he’s understandably stayed away from the infamous “Bullet Catch” – a calculated attempt to catch a bullet either with teeth or an open hand. The trick has claimed too many lives, and it’s known to be the most dangerous illusion in the trade.
Gudgeon wants his friend to perform the stunt, but Hammel will only do it with Chris pulls the trigger. Overcome with excitement and nervousness, the team (including some of Scott’s magician buddies) prepare for a one-of-a-kind performance.
The Trick with the Gun is hilarious with dry wit in the same way Robert Cohen (and many celebrities) displayed in Being Canadian, proving Canadians have a soft spot for droll sarcasm. Gudgeon often had me in stitches with how he reacts to life’s serious moments, but director McNamara is careful not to browbeat his fear of confrontation into a form of comedy. If anything, these apprehensions add reality to McNamara’s film – especially the moments of conflict between Scott and Chris.
The documentary’s heartening focus on taking risks in order to conquer one’s own embellished panic is stimulating no matter the context. The message is always sound whether the film is taking place on a professional stage, leisure time in Toronto’s popular magic shop, or during a retreat between Chris and his son. While the audience learns from the movie, the filmmaker’s background in television (most notably children’s programming) helps The Trick with the Gun manage a consistent playfulness.
And, in case you were wondering: the magic is amazing. On top of its prevalent strengths, The Trick with the Gun stands as a reminder of how fantastic magic can be through its unpredictable, inexplicable imagination.
The Trick with the Gun has its theatrical premiere at the Bloor Hot Docs Cinema on Thursday, November 19 at 6:30pm. Scott Hammell, Chris Gudgeon, and Michael McNamara will be in attendance for a post-screening Q&A and a live magic show.
McNamara’s doc hits Vimeo-On-Demand on Friday, November 20, followed by its world broadcast premiere on Tuesday, December 8 at 9:00pm on Super Channel.
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Addison Wylie: @AddisonWylie