by Eric D. Snider
Released: April 11, 2001
Andrew Dominik's not-a-biography of legendary Australian criminal Mark "Chopper" Read is an unnecessarily violent film about a man who makes an interesting footnote in Down Under history, but who can hardly command attention for an entire film.
"Chopper," we are told, is "a dramatisation in which creative liberties have been taken." This is a paradox, as the film's protagonist himself is famous for lying and exaggerating. What we're watching, then, is a fictionalized account of a man whose own autobiography is already fictionalized.
The film opens in 1978, when Chopper (Australian comedian Eric Bana) is in prison for kidnapping. In an attempt to gain power over H Division, he knifes a guy quite bloodily; in retaliation, Chopper's one-time friend Jimmy (Simon Lyndon) stabs him up real good.
Everyone hates Chopper now (especially when Jimmy tells everyone his stabbing of him was self-defense), and to effect a transfer, Chopper has a fellow inmate slice his ears off for him. This is shown in considerable gory detail, by the way -- just one of several instances in which the film's violence is given the royal treatment.
In 1986, Chopper gets out of prison and reunites with his girlfriend, Tanya (Kate Beahan), whom he sees fit to beat up at some point. He's also searching for Jimmy, as he wants revenge; Jimmy, meanwhile, is under contract to kill Chopper. Chopper eventually lands in prison again and writes a best-selling book, becoming a cult hero.
There's not nearly enough actual intrigue or suspense to maintain a feature film. Bana is obviously trying to play Chopper like a cruel, wise-cracking bully, but he comes off as cretinous more than anything. It's one thing to have a protagonist who is unsympathetic; it's another thing to have one whom audiences are inclined to hate passionately. I believe it was when he beat up Tanya that I realized, "OK, I can't like this guy anymore, even as an anti-hero." Even Darth Vader never hit a woman.
Rated R, abundant harsh profanity, abundant bloody violence
Copyright © Eric D. Snider.
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