More history might help sharpen story of `Chopper'


May 25, 2001|By Chris Kaltenbach | Chris Kaltenbach,SUN MOVIE CRITIC

"Chopper" is a great movie, if you're an Australian.

For if you live in Australia, you probably know all about Mark "Chopper" Read, a violent psychopath and insufferable braggart who loves nothing more than inflicting violence on people, then basking in the notoriety resulting therefrom.

The child of a devout mother and a former soldier who enjoyed sleeping alongside a loaded gun, Read grew up wanting to become a master criminal. Instead, he turned into a caricature, a guy with a trigger temper who undoubtedly did bad things, but perhaps not as bad as his fondness for telling tall tales implies. Eventually, he wrote a book, a mix of fact and fiction where the two were almost impossible to separate, and became something of a cult hero (think "heroes" from Oliver Stone's "Natural Born Killers").

Unfortunately, little of that background story is told in "Chopper," a film that assumes you already know plenty about this guy, and thus will enjoy this fictionalized account of his adult life (a title card at the beginning warns this is no biography). Whenever a little insight seems to be called for, or a bit of background, the bullets simply start flying.

We first meet Read, mesmerizingly portrayed by Eric Bana, already in jail, engaging in some verbal sparring with fellow prisoner Keithy George (David Field), who warns him to stay on his side of the jailhouse. Read responds by beating George's face until he's dead.

Obviously, this is not a nice guy. But that's not the half of it; he doesn't treat his friends much better, and eventually one of them, Jimmy Loughnan (Simon Lyndon), decides he's had enough. He stabs Read about a dozen times (I lost count), but to no avail. Chopper, it seems, has a bit of the bogeyman in him and can't be killed so easily.

Eventually he's released from jail, but only after persuading a fellow inmate to slice off Chopper's ear (which lands Read in a safer part of the prison). The violence, however, continues as Read continues beating, murdering and just being generally despicable - all with the tacit approval of the local authorities, who see some good to be had from letting Chopper be Chopper.

There's an awful lot of kinetic energy to "Chopper," and the violence is portrayed as graphically as imaginable. But without knowing more about this guy and what makes him tick, what we're left with is the celluloid version of a freak show, an excuse simply to watch Chopper chop.


Starring Eric Bana

Written and directed by Andrew Dominik


Released by First Look Pictures

Running time 93 minutes

Sun score ** 1/2

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