Reviewed By Stephen Groenewegen
Posted 08/04/00 13:45:19

4 stars (Worth A Look)

Chopper is a dramatisation of several key events in the life of Mark "Chopper" Read, Australian standover man turned best-selling author. Writer/director Andrew Dominik presents us with some colourful episodes from Chopper's life - presumably taken from his books. The first part of the film takes place in Pentridge prison in 1978; the second, in 1986, sees him picking up his life outside - and tying up loose ends from his prison days.

The film is really a string of violent incidents, but what binds it together is Eric Bana, who shoots, stabs, punches and hacks his way through the film in a towering performance as Chopper. The physical transformation - the capped teeth, the tattoos, the slabs of weight he gained and lost - are striking enough, but Bana gives us both sides of Chopper Read - criminal and storyteller. He has a marvellous expressive voice and you can't take your eyes off him. The film is hypnotically compelling, thanks to Bana, who's in virtually every scene. He pulls off a tricky feat - making Chopper charismatic, without being likeable - so the film isn't condoning Chopper or his actions. Amazingly, this is Bana's first leading role in a film (he had a supporting part in The Castle) but he's well-known to Australian TV audiences from sketch comedy and a short stint as a talk-show host.

Dominik mixes in some diverting story-telling tecnhiques - varying the lighting, altering the speed and texture of the images, even retelling a short sequence with rhyming couplets. It's good to see a new film-maker trying different things, but these touches sometimes stand out or feel gimmicky since the rest of the film plays in a conventional manner.

It's left to Bana to render forgettable the minor flaws in this film. It's worth stressing that the film is very violent, with its fair share of black humour (Bana puts his stand-up comic experience to good use). David Field, Vince Colosimo, Simon Lyndon, Kenny Graham and an hilarious Skye Wansey (as Loughnan's fiancee) also turn in memorable performances.

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