Saturday, December 22, 2012


Written and directed by Andrew Dominik, Chopper is the story about the life of notorious Australian criminal Mark Brandon “Chopper” Read and his exploits as a criminal. The film is an exploration into the life of a criminal as he’s played by Eric Bana. Also starring Simon Lyndon, Kate Beahan, and David Field. Chopper is a gritty yet fascinating film from Andrew Dominik.

It’s the late 1970s as Chopper Read is in prison still serving a sentence for kidnapping a supreme court judge in an attempt to get his friend Jimmy Loughnan (Simon Lydon) out of the maximum security Pentridge Prison. Serving at the notorious H division, Read manages to become notorious as he becomes the division leader but he ends up gaining more enemies than friends where Loughnan tries to stab him to death as a way to restore balance. Instead, Read survives as he later has his ears cut off by an inmate to be transferred where he is eventually released in 1986. Upon his return to the real world, Read isn’t sure how to deal with the new changes as he deals with old friends and old enemies where he’s not sure who to trust.

At a club with his old girlfriend Tanya (Kate Beahan), Read encounters one of his old victim in Neville Bartos (Vince Colosimo) who has now become a major crime figure. Read becomes uneasy about Bartos as he suspects that Tanya is having an affair with him as he goes to Bartos’ home to confront him as it leads to all sorts of trouble. A hit is then put on Read as he learns that Loughnan has already been released in prison as he later confronts him as Loughnan claims he has no idea who is putting the hit on Read. Yet, another attempt to kill him only makes Read far more notorious as he returns to prison more infamous than ever.

The film is essentially a loose story about the life of Chopper Read and his notorious exploits based on his books that recalled many of actions as a criminal. Largely as it is set from the late 1970s to the early 1990s as he becomes infamous but also a cult figure where he would become a best-selling author. A lot of it is told from his perspective as he talks to crime bosses and later a film crew as the film begins with himself and a couple of guards watching him on TV. The film’s screenplay does admit that it took a lot of dramatic liberties to help tell the story yet it is to explore who Chopper Read is as he’s a man that is very brutish but also sensitive as he’s willing to show concern for his victims. Yet, there’s also something sympathetic about him when he’s out of prison as he doesn’t know who to trust while he’s being looked on as irrelevant to some that forces him to do things to get his name back.

Andrew Dominik’s direction is definitely stylized in terms of its look as he goes for a very low-key, grainy film stock to maintain the sense of grittiness in the film. Notably as he maintains an air of intimacy with his camera work to showcase what kind of man Chopper Read is as well as his surroundings. In prison, there is something that feels more lively where Chopper can do whatever. Even if he’s confined to a cell as he seems to enjoy himself no matter how lonely he is. When he’s outside of prison, things are confusing where he has no idea what to do or who to turn to. He doesn’t trust anyone at all and those who were his friends are also untrustworthy as the direction itself is unsettling and unpredictable in its framing. There’s a sense of what Chopper might do as he does do things that are reprehensible and also makes him unsympathetic at times. Even as Dominik would recreate a few scenes to see how Chopper can talk his way out of it. Overall, Dominik creates a film that is uncompromising but also engaging about the life of a notorious yet charming criminal.

Cinematographers Geoffrey Hall and Kevin Hayward do amazing work with the film‘s very colorful yet grimy look of the film where it has an air of grain to showcase its grittiness as well as in scenes in night and at the nightclubs where it‘s very stylized to play out the mood of the film. Editor Ken Sallows does great work in the editing by playing up the sense of the action that occurs with some stylish fast-cuts and some unique montages to showcase how some moments are played out in different ways. Production designer Paddy Reardon, along with art directors Ben Bauer and Jeffrey Thorp, does terrific work with the look of the prison that Chopper lives in to the Bojangles club that he goes to where he would have one of his famous incidents.

Costume designer Terry Ryan does nice work with the costumes from the prison uniforms that Chopper wears to the more outdated 70s clothing that he arrives at the outside world where he feels completely out of place with everyone else. Sound designer Frank Lipson does wonderful work with the sound to capture the intimacy of the prisons as well as the chaos in the club scenes. The film’s music by Mick Harvey is superb for its low-key yet eerie ambient score to play out the drama that occurs throughout the film. Music supervisor Jackie Dennis creates a marvelous soundtrack that features all sorts of music from the Birthday Party, Rose Tattoo, Frankie Laine, Chain, Renee Geyer, Cold Chisel, The Saints, and the Loved Ones.

The casting by Gregory Apps is brilliant for the ensemble that is created as it features some standout performances from Dan Wyllie as one of Chopper’s prison friends in Bluey, David Field as the rival convict Keith George, Serge Liistro as the famed hitman Sammy the Turk, and Renee Brack as the TV reporter who interviews Chopper. Kate Beahan is wonderful as Chopper’s old prostitute girlfriend Tanya who doesn’t really know how to deal with Chopper’s alienation. Vince Colosimo is excellent as a former of victim of Chopper who has now become a top crime figure only to get himself into trouble with Chopper. Simon Lydon is superb as Jimmy Loughnan who tries to get rid of Chopper only for things to go wrong and his own fortunes going into a downward spiral as he is later confronted by a freed Chopper.

Finally, there’s Eric Bana in a truly outstanding performance as Mark Brandon “Chopper” Read. Filled with lots of charisma, a brutish physicality, and a sensitivity, it’s truly a performance that no one will forget as Bana brings the man to life in every way. Even as he is someone who knows he is flawed and at times quite despicable. Yet, it adds to the complexity of the character where Bana just allows the character to just be who he is without any compromise.

Chopper is a remarkable film from Andrew Dominik that features an incredible performance from Eric Bana. The film is definitely an interesting look into the life of a criminal that refuses to be pegged or be forgotten while taking in all of the infamy that he craves for. While it’s not an easy film to watch at times while it also has a look that is very dark. It truly plays to who this man is and why there’s people who are fond of him. In the end, Chopper is a marvelous film from Andrew Dominik.

Andrew Dominik Films: The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford - Killing Them Softly - One More Time with Feeling - This Much I Know to Be True - Blonde (2022 film)

© thevoid99 2012

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