The filmed version of legendary Australian criminal Mark “Chopper” Read’s semi-autobiographical book, is, along with Fight Club, one of the best unreliable narrator movies ever made. Read’s “novels” are extremely popular in his native land, as they concern his own criminal history, although, apparently there is no way to tell the difference between what is real and what he tells himself (and his audience) is real. It would be probably quite difficult for Read to have the same impact in America, considering criminals cannot profit off of their own crimes, but his criminality, or at least his own dissection of it, is part of his and the movie’s immense charm and impact.
Eric Bana (who, in a brilliant bit of casting will next be playing Hulk) plays Chopper as a vicious softy, one moment brutalizing a man for no reason, the next moment seemingly remorseful and apologetic. It’s a bizarre character to balance and Bana is amazing in the part. He manages to be horrifying and charming in the same
sentence, while at the same time capturing how lost Chopper is in his own world, scared, despite his fearless appearance.
Writer-director Andrew Dominik attempts to present Chopper objectively, but as he admits in his commentary, there is little way to do so. How can you be objective to an event if you don’t even know if it happened? Certain things are clear, Chopper spends the majority of his life in prison, the opening act shows us what life is like for him on the inside. He turns virtually every inmate into an enemy because he likes to be sure of where he stands with others. This is where the film is particularly brutal, at one point Chopper cuts of his own ears to get out of trouble. But the brutality mixes with the humor of the presentation. Bana and Domink continually undermine the violence with Chopper’s inherent charm. One scene where Chopper attempts to negotiate a vigilante contract with the police is particularly amusing. The film is essentially plotless, it’s a character study where we simply follow Chopper around for 90 minutes, watching him intimidate and apologize. This causes a problem of repetition, a nearly incurable pacing issue. Because of this, the last 1/3 of the movie drags a bit in an initial viewing, but the film will stay with you for weeks.
I saw Chopper during a brief theatrical run, and the photography was very grainy, using very stark greens and reds. Image’s DVD has a problem with color bleeding, especially during a club scene halfway through the film that was shot through a red filter. The disc is presented in a 1.78 anamorphic print. The framing is accurate and black levels are quite good.
Chopper has a DTS, 5.1, and a 2.0 surround track. During prison sequences, the surrounds were active, as other inmates yelled at Chopper. The mix isn’t generally aggressive, on occasion, like in the previously mentioned club scene, there is significant ambient noise, but I found that the sound was well placed and always a presence.
The disc is pretty heavily stacked with extras, most of which add to the film experience. Dominik’s provides a very dry and incisive commentary, revealing more about the character of Chopper than can be culled from a single viewing. He does apologize for his lethargic tone however, at one point saying that he’s “sounding a bit like golf commentary now.” The real Mark “Chopper” Read gives the other track and he is forthright and amusing. Of the cops, he says, “I was carrying more guns than they were. What were they doing giving me lectures?” He doesn’t reveal all the secrets, we still don’t end up knowing what events really occurred and what were imagined.
5 included deleted scenes would have added very little, apart from one scene with a significant amount of vomiting. On the European disc, there was commentary by Dominik for the deleted footage, but Image has not included it. A trailer is also on the disc.
The best extra is “A Weekend With Chopper,” which is basically 20 minutes of the real Chopper telling one incredible story after another, specifically the one about his ear. It is apparent from this poorly shot 8mm footage, that Bana is an incredible actor, for he doesn’t look so much like Read, but he has completely captured him.