Originally written as a bite-sized review for THOMAS J: My Journey Through Film, aka digitalshortbread.com
If you haven’t seen Chopper, watch it.
A movie that will forever linger in your brain, it is also perhaps the quintessential Aussie film, a preservation of the ‘occa’ culture that is sadly suffering a slow death chiefly due to political reasons whose details that are best saved for another day.
‘Taking the piss’, insulting your mates for laughs over a barbeque, the almost dead notion of mateship between every person – friend or stranger, not to mention the very black humour that is the name of the game in this dramatised biopic, are all represented in this eccentric barrel of laughs. Of course though, there are much more demented themes on show, but even these somehow render Chopper the embodiment of our laid back culture and its unique sense of humour – perhaps most funniest when old Chop-Chop shoots a man, only to drive him to the hospital immedietely afterwards.
A noticeably beefed up Eric Bana plays the larger than life character in a career best performance. It wasn’t long before this that he was limited to Australian TV soaps. It is hard to see this fact given the almost scary depiction of a legitimate maniac.
It is worth repeating that this essential Australian cinema; if you haven’t seen it, I envy you: if only I could go all Men In Black on myself and wipe the memory of all the viewings so I could see it for a first time again myself. I remember where I was and who I was with when I first saw this. It’s that type of movie. Or perhaps my sense of humour is too demented for its own good.
Bana truly inhibits the character of Mark ‘Chopper’ Read, an often psychotic Australian vigilante and ‘legendary criminal’ who was responsible for an unknown amount of deaths. He claims the number is 19, but he was only tried for one attempted murder, a charge he beat before moving on to become a best-selling writer while in prison for other criminal activity. A best-seller, as he laughs, “who can’t even bloody spell”.
During his first venture into crime he would assault drug-dealers, the scourge of the earth in his opinion, often using torture to force more money out of them. Apparently he was fond of blowtorches and bolt-cutters. He took a step up when he decided take on the criminal underworld of Melbourne. Unsurprisingly, he went about this violently.
All up, the guy is what I’d call a bloody good bloke.
For a 94 minute film, Chopper has a truly (and literally) insane amount of action, blood, and thoroughly memorable scenes with quotes that will stick. There is no bloated, two hour-plus slog to be found here, this is efficient filmmaking done right and a direct result of this is that the violent impact is maximised.
We first visit Chopper in prison, where the humourous nature of the film is quickly established, despite the fact than an ear is removed from its owner not far from the beginning. But even this scene is quite funny in how the script has been written.
Soon the violent criminal underworld becomes the principle backdrop, Bana constantly on-screen. His immensely dramatised depiction of Mark Read, coupled with the true to life unpredictable and violent personality of the subject, is a big reason why this flick is so goddamned unrelenting yet hilarious.
Its impossible to know what this crazy bastard is going to do next, but you can be pretty sure that it will include some form of violence. But thanks to a top-notch screenplay, involving Chop’s wild mood swings that funnily enough could be described as violent themselves, quieter scenes possess the same intimidating-as-all-hell feeling. Even if you’re laughing.
Mark Read was one of a kind, and there is no doubt that the film is too – how dramatised his personality is portrayed though is an unknown. One could compare Chopper to Winding Refn’s Bronson in some ways: the black humour, the violence, the notoriety of the subject. But even with this comparison, the differences outweigh the similarities. Chopper is arguably the best Australian film of decade (and no, Fury Road doesn’t count) and every cinephile should add it to their watchlist, if only to see Eric Bana play a part unlike anything else he has done. That and, well, as mentioned, it couldn’t be more Aussie in every conceivable way.
5 and a half beers out a sixer.
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