CHOPPER(director/writer: Andrew Dominik; screenwriter: based on a book by Mark Brandon Read; cinematographers: Geoffrey Hall/Kevin Hayward; editor: Ken Sallows; music: Mick Harvey; cast: Eric Bana (Mark ‘Chopper’ Read), Simon Lyndon (Jimmy Loughnan), David Field (Keithy George), Daniel Wyllie (Bluey), Bill Young (Det. Downie), Vince Colosimo (Neville Bartos), Kenny Graham (Keith Read), Kate Beahan (Tanya), Serge Liistro (Sammy the Turk), Skye Wansey (Mandy), Pam Western (Tanya’s Mother); Runtime: 94; First Look Pictures; 2000-Australia)
“It’s a slickly done fictionalized biopic with an explosive character giving an entertaining performance, and it’s nothing more than that.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
The theme of this bio about a publicity seeking psychopath is: Never let the truth get in the way of a good yarn. It’s an imagined portrait of Mark “Chopper” Read (Eric Bana-a former TV comedian), a real-life career criminal who claims to have tortured (cutting off their toes) and murdered 19 people (drug dealers and lowlifes). The Aussies love to make folk heroes out of some of their notorious criminals (Ned Kelly), probably stemming from their settler origins as a British penal colony.
There’s not much of a story here (it offers no insight into the criminal’s behavior), it’s all about Bana’s charismatic performance as Chopper. It’s one of charming his audience with his foul deeds and having us take a close-up look at the caged felon when we are at a safe distance from him. Chopper’s bravado acting is what gives this lifeless story its splash, as his character is prone to frightening mood swings from friendliness to deadly menace. The acting is convincingly done, making him appear to be a fearful sociopath. It’s hard not to find his nonchalant attitude toward violence thoroughly sickening, though some might be entertained by his over-the-top sleaze act. But what might be more disturbing is to see Chopper gleefully preening while reading his fan mail for a TV special, as a wormy woman reporter coos in front of him. Chopper’s later seen watching from his jail cell the TV program and checking out what others find fascinating about him, as if he was a neutral observer not caring what others think — when the opposite seems to be true. Fan clubs have started for him and he continues to receive love letters from all over the world as this boastful, semi-literate, social deviant, has also become a best-selling author. It makes you wonder!
The film opens in the H division in the maximum-security section of Pentridge Prison in Melbourne where Chopper, a career criminal, is serving time for one of his many violent crimes. When Chopper is told by Keithy George (David Field), the self-appointed leader of a group of prisoners, not to cross a line to his side of the prison rec room — Chopper instead stabs him fatally in the neck and in court is exonerated as it’s ruled an act of self-defense.
A contract is put out on the despised Chopper and his best friend, a hapless addict, Jimmy Loughnan (Lyndon), repeatedly stabs him in the guts, but all Chopper could think of doing is console Jimmy as he stands there in a pool of blood oblivious to the pain. The fearful Jimmy claims he was attacked by Chopper and the court agrees, giving him a ten year sentence.
Before being released from prison Chopper chops off his ears, which adds to the mad figure he presents to the world. Chopper is a big man who is covered in hideous body tattoos and looks alarming when he opens his mouth and shows his front teeth capped with metal.
When released from prison, Chopper shows up with his prostitute girlfriend, Tanya, at Bojangles nightclub, a favorite spot of Chopper’s criminal associates. They are fearful of him, not knowing what to expect, and he tries to ingratiate himself with them by being over apologetic and acting concerned about them holding any grudges against him. He’s befriended by an old acquaintance, Neville, a big-time drug dealer, someone he once shot in the leg leaving him with a permanent limp. Things are going smoothly between them, but suddenly a paranoiac rage comes over Chopper and he leaves the disco by firing his gun into the air and ranting against his former criminal friends.
Not letting things go at that incident, Chopper returns to Neville’s swank pad and acts extremely friendly in his apology but then decides to shoot Neville when he refuses to give him money. Chopper then drives the drug dealer to the emergency room to save his life, for some reason that can’t be reasonably explained. When he tells this to the cops he is working for as an informer, they don’t believe him. The relationship between the cops and him, becomes one in which one is the cat and the other is the mouse. Yet both think they’re the cat.
The final act of violence is when Chopper’s being setup to be hit by Sammy the Turk, who mistakenly takes him to the wrong underground parking lot in Bojangles and is instead shot in the head by Chopper. At first the cops don’t believe his outrageous confession, but after an eyewitness report he’s convicted of the crime and is currently still in prison for that crime. Chopper has never been charged with the alleged 19 other murders, which the film thinks might be exaggerated.
The film has no pretensions to be an art film, a great crime thriller, or a psychological character study. It’s a slickly done fictionalized biopic with an explosive character giving an entertaining performance, and it’s nothing more than that.
REVIEWED ON 12/20/2001 GRADE: C
Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”
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