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CHOPPER (2000)

Written By:

John Townsend

Mark ‘Chopper’ Read was an Australian criminal who spent the majority of his life behind bars, convicted of crimes varying from armed robbery to kidnapping. Already notorious his reputation was further enhanced through his books, and any film based upon those exploits runs the risk of glorification.

Yet Andrew Dominik’s directorial début intentionally maintains an air of impartiality, the camera floating through scenes as if in awestruck surprise of what is actually being observed. While Dominik’s direction is accomplished, it is the performance of Eric Bana in only his second film role that elevates Chopper, his performance avoiding parody, being terrifying in both excess and subtlety. Bana is outstanding, displaying the paranoia and cruelty dominant in Read’s psyche. Whenever on screen he is dominant, captivating as if growing in stature to cast a malevolent shadow on his surroundings.

In positioning his film as impartial, however, Dominik perhaps misses an opportunity. It’s fair that, despite being based upon Read’s own writings, there is little sympathy for the character. But there are scenes of him evolving into something akin to an anti-hero, primarily targeting other criminals for his vengeance and his crime scenes becoming tourist attractions. Given Read’s self-confessed record, taking a stance in the judgement of his activities may have been appropriate. Only in the final scene of the film is there a moment of poignancy and self-awareness, but is it enough?

Chopper is an intriguing film, one that challenges the viewer through unpredictable, often excessive violence set against a palate of folksiness and sporadic black humour. And worth seeking out for Bana’s performance alone.

Chopper is available on digital platforms and selected cinemas now. 

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