Chopper (2001) movie poster

(2001) dir. Andrew Dominik
viewed: 10/26/07

I’d seen this film on video shelves for several years, but didn’t know much about it from when it came out for some reason.  But, I have been anticipating going to see writer/director Andrew Dominik’s much condemned new film The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (2007) and on a whim I queued this one up to get a sense of the director.

Chopper is interesting material, all new to me.  Chopper is based semi-roughly on a notorious former criminal, Australia’s Mark Brandon Read, whose notoriety is quite fascinating.  The film depicts his story with large doses based on the real story of his life, based on a series of books that he started writing in the 1990’s as he became a popular cultural figure, not just in Australia but the world.

Chopper himself is played with great spark by Eric Bana, who I’d been wondering for some time why he was pulled in for movies.  Now it’s clear.  He’s tremendously good as the ruthless yet oddly if not psychotically inconsistently idealistic killer, torturer, all around criminal.  He’s a wit, but loopy and dangerous to the max.  He’s true to his comrades, even to some crazy extents.

One of the best scenes in the movie is where his best friends in prison turn on him to try to get in on a contract that has been taken out on him.  They suddenly shank him, which he takes as if they were merely thumping his nose or something, trying to talk out the issues rationally and with no judgment whatsoever.  He is stabbed repeatedly throughout the scene but only shows signs of succumbing at the very end.  It’s played with this turgid black humor that exemplifies the nature of Read’s character.  He’s brighter than most but impossible to gauge.

The film itself is pretty good.  The color tinting done throughout seemed a little overdone, with some rooms all green, many all blue, some yellow or red.  I didn’t try to analyze the scheme.  It just seemed a little more than necessary, and occasionally drew me out of the film.

The violence has some of that post-modern irony that Pulp Fiction (1994), flippant and shocking in the way its played out.  But for the truth and fiction of the real Mark “Chopper” Brandon Read, this is much the point as anything.  A fascination with a ruthlessness that is also tall tale as much as it is meant to display the “reality” of the criminal world.  There is something interesting there, this sense of criminal celebrity, myth and self-mythologizing.  It would tie into his new film in that sense, and so I am still looking forward to seeing it despite its poor reviews.

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