Chopper Review (Film, 2001)

Mark "Chopper" Read is a psychopath. There is no mincing words here. The career criminal is so disconnected from reality that he is willing to cause harm to himself to get what he wants. He lies, cheats, and manipulates to create a story worthy of a best-selling book and then sells the book as his true story, lies and all. The scariest part about Chopper is the biographical element. Mark Read was real. Mark Read went to jail repeatedly throughout his life, turning his letters from prison into a best-selling autobiography in his native Australia. He really did do ridiculous things in and out of prison to build a reputation for himself and further his career as a surprise media darling.

The film is surprisingly experimental for the true crime genre, playing with form and visuals to capture the unreliable narrator in all of his sociopathy. Director Andrew Dominick does not pull the camera away when Chopper does something incredibly stupid and violent. You see him convince another inmate to slice off the outer part of his ear to get him out of a particular prison wing in the same way you see his girlfriend shoot him up with heroin.

The colors constantly shift in the background, creating a surreal foundation for a story that seems too good to be true. That's the biggest trick and greatest flaw in Chopper. No matter what sensational visuals are thrown at the screen, nothing will ever compare to the real story of what this man did with his life. That means a transformative text willing to go to extremes that will never read as honest. It's a brilliant use of the alienation effect.

Eric Bana gives a masterful performance as Chopper. You doubt every word that comes out of his mouth, but believe his every action. It's a committed performance that actually uses the physical transformation (significant weight gain, plus a whole lot of terrible tattoos and special effects makeup) to bring the character to life. Some actors let the makeup wear them in this kind of role; Bana makes you wonder if they had to use makeup at all.

The film doesn't lack for direction. The execution of this screenplay is excellent. The screenplay itself doesn't have much of an arc to it. This is a sideshow attraction. You're putting your money down to gawk at the geek and watch him bite the head off of a chicken. Only instead of biting the head off a chicken, Chopper threatens a night club with a gun because someone he shot 10 years before became friends with his girlfriend while he was in prison.

Chopper is brilliant experiment in digging into the mind of a total psycho and not trying to make sense of it. We get to roll around for the running time in the twisted logic of someone who really doesn't understand the difference between right and wrong and no one is expected to understand how his mind works. It just is.

Chopper's story in the film is a reflection of the media's obsession in real life. There is no good reason for him to have obtained such a level of fame. He just did. He orchestrated a story so bizarre and developed such a charming courtroom persona that he got to define his life as a career criminal as an artistic triumph.

Chopper is available for purchase on Amazon or DVD rental on Netflix. A new release is desperately needed. This one doesn't even have subtitles.

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