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By Dave Best

The Australian film industry has a history of producing low-budget films which gain a cult audience and serve as a springboard to international success for their stars. Mad Max (1979) marked the debut of Mel Gibson, Romper Stomper (1992) gave us Russell Crowe, Two Hands (1999) presented Heath Ledger to the world, and in 2000 Eric Bana firmly arrived on the scene as the titular character in Andrew Dominik’s superb, Chopper.

In this (loosely) based-on-a-true-story biopic, Bana plays Mark Brandon ‘Chopper’ Read; a charismatic, larger-than-life career criminal and subsequent best-selling author who made a living from robbing and extorting drug dealers and other shady figures from the Australian criminal underworld. Read, prone to acts of casual violence and torture, is undeniably a psychopath but he is also a charming, sympathetic and laugh-out-loud hilarious character. This is testament to the incredible performance which Bana delivers, playing Read as equal parts side splittingly funny and head splittingly insane whilst emanating hypnotic charisma at all times. His physical presence (Bana is almost unrecognisable, having bulked up heavily for the role), deft delivery of dialogue and multitude of nuanced mannerisms all add up to create a portrait of a deeply flawed but undeniably loveable character that you will find yourself quoting relentlessly.

Come on Eric, Hulk wasn't that bad...
 Bana’s performance isn’t the only reason Chopper is a stand out film though. The real life Read is notorious for embellishing, exaggerating and flat out fabricating tales of his own dark deeds. As such, creating a biopic about him was always going to be a challenge. The film’s narrative takes its inspirations from Read’s own reality-stretching memoirs and more grounded independent research (interviews with accomplices, witnesses and victims, etc.), then weaves the two together to form a razor sharp and darkly comical script which plays with the concepts of truth and reality. The filmmakers regularly address the fact that Read is often self-delusional about his actions and provide alternate versions of key points in his life, leaving the viewer to question which version of events, if any, they choose to believe. This ambiguity is one of the reasons Chopper is such an intriguing and engaging movie.

Moments later a tiny helicopter would land on Bana's chest and ruin the shot
It is a thoughtfully shot film. A multitude of different techniques are used throughout the piece, creating an episodic feel to the different chapters in Read’s life. The prison sequences, for instance, are cold and sparse with the colour dialled down to the bare minimum giving the scenes a blue-ish hue (see above); the scenes after Read is returned to society are flooded with garish colour almost to the point of being overwhelming, reflecting the prisoners experience of going from a basic and restricted environment out into an over stimulating and unfamiliar world. Having so many scenes differ in tone and style to one another could be a jarring experience, but in the context of Chopper it works well and helps gives you a similar perspective to the erratic lead character.  

The man himself, Mark 'Chopper' Read
(silly caption withheld, as I value my health)
This is a fantastic piece of world cinema and a showcase of acting-as-an-art-form from Bana. It will make you laugh at things you probably shouldn’t laugh at, it will make you feel sorry for a man you probably shouldn’t feel sorry for, and much of what you see may or may not have ever actually happened; but as the film's tagline says; “never let the truth get in the way of a good yarn”, and this is most definitely a good yarn. 

For further information visit Chopper's IMDb page: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0221073/

Suggested further viewing: Munich (2005), Bronson (2008), Animal Kingdom (2010).