I will start this review by admitting something, I have never been a fan of Anthony Hopkins. From his unconvincing Hitchcock to his underwhelming Odin I had remained unconvinced of his supposed talent. Add to this the fact that he has made some crazy career choices (Transformers: The Last Knight anyone?) and I just couldn’t see what the fuss was all about when it came to casting Hopkins.
I am sure there are those amongst you reading this yelling out “what about Hannibal Lecter?” and its true in many peoples eyes that role is the crowning glory of his career. To me Sir Anthony spends more time chewing the scenery than he does his fava beans placing him a solid third just before Aaran Thomas and Gaspard Ulliel’s joint fourth place (the poor pair were hindered by the movie more than their acting) and far behind the marvellous mundane menace of the brilliant Brian Cox and the best Lecter that ever lived Mads Mikkelsen who more than mastered the role.
To me Anthony Hopkins was immensely over rated, always seeming the same in whatever he stared in but that was all before I saw Magic.
A tour de force of his talent Magic is the story of shy and withdrawn magician Corky played by Hopkins who struggles to make it big until he hits on a great gimmick with the invention of his assistant Fats. X-rated and extremely offensive Fats is an overbearing puppet who looks like a creepy caricature of his master. A massive hit with audiences Fats is abusive and aggressive, the exact opposite of Corky propelling the magician into the big time and gaining him an agent Ben Greene (Rocky’s Burgess Meredith) who believes this act could break him into the mainstream.
With Ben’s help, Corky is on the verge of getting a TV pilot however when he hears he must undergo a medical examination he freaks out and refuses to cooperate. Although Ben’s thinks Corky is frightened of success it is clear there is more going on in the unhinged man’s mind then might appear and the performer flees to his home town in the Catskills looking for security and some form of sanity.
He finds both in the form of old flame Peggy Ann Snow (Ann-Margret) who he rents a lake house from and attempts to rekindle the lost love they once shared. Trapped in a terrible marriage Peggy is bowled over by the sensitive and caring Corky and the lewd and provocative Fats but soon the magicians mental state begins to deteriorate and the doll’s dark urges start to take over his puppeteers personality.
There is a rich history of puppets in horror from Dead of Night to Annabelle and having featured in Rodney Ascher’s excellent 2017 short film Primal Screen the petrifying power of the puppet in Magic elevates it to one of the best examples of this spooky sub genre.
Directed by Richard Attenborough the film is wonderfully well shot and the sensational script by William Goldman who adapted it from his novel is gripping from start to finish. Containing drama, romance and moments of true terror Magic works as a straight up psychological horror but also serves as a wonderful portrait of mental breakdown as well as one of the best movies about self destruction ever made.
All this is nothing without the outstanding central performance from Anthony Hopkins who is utterly compelling and convincing as Corky and Fats. Never over acting or slipping into a ridiculous parody of paranoia Hopkins is so utterly immersed in the role you believe everything you see and this makes the movie so much more unsettling and tragic.
Like Peggy, Corky is trapped in an abusive relationship but with his alter ego Fats who he needs to unleash the aggressive and assertive side of his personality which is chained up inside him. Corky is only half a person and Fats completes him however once he lets the puppet out of his psyche he finds it harder and harder to regain control.
A tense and terrifying movie with a pitch perfect performance from Anthony Hopkins Magic is essential viewing for any and all horror fans not only as the best creepy puppet picture but as one of the greatest psychological horror films ever made.
So next time someone doubts Anthony Hopkins talent as I once did just make them watch Magic and see there options magically transform.