Directed by Andrew Dominik
Starring Eric Bana, Simon Lyndon, David Field
Review by Jordan
The recent passing of legendary Australian criminal Mark Brandon “Chopper” Read divided the nation into either sadness or indifference, he was after all a thug and a murderer, but his larrikinism, combined with our love of blue-collar outlaws (Ned Kelly being the obvious), ensured that through the fixated media he captivated most of the country for better or worse, eventually writing a best-seller “From the Inside” whilst behind bars.
This book formed the basis of Andrew Dominik’s celebrated account of Chopper’s life; a film so highly regarded among Australian critics and film students it’s a wonder it isn’t its own school subject. Eric Bana, leaving successful soapie Something in the Air to take the role, gives a performance for the ages, channelling Read’s borderline Bi-Polar personality combining a roguish charm with terrifying aggression. He is nothing short of outstanding, and with Dominik’s assured direction, a rollcall of Australia’s best character actors in support and the representation of the depressing squalor these criminals live in, so is this film.
Chopper charts Reads life starting in prison with his small posse, stabbing/killing inmates he has no real reason to hate to make a name for himself (though he does apologise at least…), and ending in prison, with him alone on his bunk after watching a brief interview of himself on prime-time TV. The main portion of the running time is devoted to seeing him attempt to adapt to life on the outside, his constant paranoia and anger leading him to a myriad of confrontational, violent situations; the bleakest (though blackly funny) example of this being when he repeatedly punches his prostitute girlfriend in the face for sleeping with his enemy, before head-butting her screaming mother and calmly exclaiming “now look what you’ve done, you’ve gone and upset your mother.” Disarming dialogue such as this is in abundance, watching it again recently I found myself laughing far more times than wincing, and it becomes clear very quickly why “Chop Chop” gained his notoriety and his fans.
If there is one genre Australia does well, its crime; Chopper may represent the apex of this, but Two Hands (1999), Gettin’ Square (2003), Animal Kingdom (2010) and the little-seen cult film Idiot Box (1996) stand ready in support. I’m curious to know how many film fans from abroad have delved into these offerings, needless to say there are a lot more than the ones I’ve listed to discover. What I am certain of however, is that Andrew Dominik has made 3 excellent films in this, The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (2007) and Killing Them Softly (2012), and it’s not just Brad Pitt that regards him so highly. He has a precise eye for filmmaking and could very well the best director this country has ever produced.
I could go on, but I’ll leave you with a relevant quote from Chop Chop himself: “Even Beethoven had his critics. See if you can name three of them.”
Mark Read may be dead, but Chopper will live on.
5 King Kong tattoos out of 5