Truth stranger than fiction?
When a man like Mark Brandon "Chopper" Read becomes an overnight celebrity, you stop and wonder just where his popularity lies. An infamous stand-over man, with a criminal record as plentiful and bizarre as the tattoos on his body, Chopper has taken his nine books to the best-seller lists Australia-wide and turned his escapades into folklore. It was inevitable that his life of crime would come to the silver screen and writer/director Andrew Dominik has done an exceptional job of dramatising his pre and post H-division stint.
It is 1978, Chopper (Eric Bana) finds himself in yet another encounter with Keithy George in H division, only this time it ends up with only one left standing. From this very point on, Chopper is forever looking over his shoulder for people out to do him in. Knowing his life is in danger and that he can't trust anyone anymore, even his best friends, he hacks off his ears to get out of the notorious division to seek safer refuge.
From here, we see his paranoia begin to take more and more control of his life. As schizophrenia settles in, El Chop Chop takes it upon himself to do away with his enemies before they get to him, but this inadvertently puts him back where he started from, in jail.
It is intentionally not clear what Dominik is trying to portray Chopper as here. Do we take him as some sort of criminal hero cleaning out the trash, a man wanting attention desperately or a soft hearted bloke with demons that can't be exorcised and that have placed him in a position that he can't ever seem to get out of? One thing is for sure, his personality comes across as a typical Aussie larrikin, a creative storyteller with a very black colouring to his humour.
|"I like cutting their toes off because they just, well, pop off."|
Speaking of the acts of violence, Hannibal this may not be; it is surely so much more gut wrenching and suspenseful as Chopper takes to his victims with a quick snap of his personality. Being in the same room with the man would be unsettling to say the least.
Eric Bana puts in one incredible performance befitting his AFI Best Actor award. His experience on shows such as Full Frontal enable him to execute this portrayal to perfection with nary a skip in his beat. You can't help but be mesmerised by his performance, and if watching the DVD some five times before actually completing this review isn't any indication that this movie is riveting, I don't know what is. The supporting actors are all excellent in pacing the movie along, with Vince Colosimo's wog rendition a step up from his Wog Boy effort.
Dominik's chosen style here is to colour the various situations and locations with a certain hue, thus giving the film a very distinct look. This bodes well with the current tone of the scene, like giving Pentridge a cold, blue hue.
The film is presented in a 1.85:1 anamorphic transfer that goes against some other past efforts by 20th Century Fox. The only issue here is that the image seems a tad soft, with a distinct lack of sharpness throughout. Given the gritty look of the film and what Dominik is intending to get across, I'm inclined to believe we have some intentional grunginess at work here.
Quite remarkably, this 5.1 soundtrack is a little gem to behold. The subtlety in the surrounds to create ambience really does add to the film's overall tone and catapults it from just another true-life drama into something far more enticing.
Whilst being strictly dialogue based, the soundtrack does exhibit some traits of those whizz-bang blockbusters with some deep bass during the various gunshot scenes. The supporting musical score rounds off the ingredients for this cookie.
A second 2 channel mix is provided for those without 5.1 setups.
The life of Chopper Read is likely to forever be dogged by controversy, but there's no denying that the man has led a fascinating, if violent, life. The movie does well to tickle the mind of the viewer into varying submissions about their thoughts of the man, but the unsettling persona does well to avoid them coming to a conclusion.
Highly recommended viewing.