19 April 2024

Scanned by Oscans Imaging in July 2021 on authority of Michele Bennett

Film Review – Chopper (2000)

On October 9th 2013 at the age of 58, infamous Australian convicted criminal Mark Brandon Read died of liver cancer in Parkville, Victoria.

Just 16 days before his death, an old and withered “ChopperRead sat down for his last ever television interview with 60 Minutes Australia and confessed to killing four men during his lifetime.

Based on the autobiographical books by criminal-turned-author way back in 2000, “ChopperRead‘s crimes of notoriety (up to that point) were told in the feature directorial crime drama debut by Andrew Dominik, straightforwardly titled Chopper.

Starring (of the time) the relatively unknown Eric Bana, Chopper was a grisly look into the many, many wrongdoings of Mark Brandon “Chopper” Read from the late 70s right through the late 80s.

The film was a worldwide success, accumulating over $3 million at box office, receiving positive reviews from critics and moviegoers alike and an abundance of award nominations and wins. Of the reception, Bana‘s performance garnered worldwide acclaim citing his portrayal of one of Australia’s ill-famed criminals as a textbook performance.

Now, two decades on from its initial release, Chopper is back in UK theatres – rereleased and remastered.

Kicking off in 1978 Victoria, Australia, Chopper begins with his life as in inmate at Pentridge Prison. Told not to cross the line of the Painters and Dockers territory, Mark “Chopper” Read proceeds to rush another inmate “Keithy George”, stabbing him to death. Based on “Chopper” Read’s real-life prison nemesis Keith Faure, “Keithy George” is a fictionalised version of Faure – of who is very much alive and currently serving life imprisonment.

Straight away in the open five minutes of the film, the gist of Dominik‘s film is set up carried out in bitterness and brutality. The ice-cold blue and morbid grey tones that paint the scenery of Pentridge Prison are categorically clinical and inhospitable. When Mark begins to savagely stab “Keithy” multiple times, the only real flash of colour in the entirety of this scene is the copious amount of blood “Keithy George” loses which pours down to the floor into a river of red. The violence is gratuitous and visceral.

In the same opening five minutes, it’s superabundant why Bana collected the applause he did. Cold and calculated through the brutalism, Mark is depicted as someone who is utterly insane and shows absolutely no remorse. It’s frightful to watch Bana as an unabashed madman.

After the Painters and Dockers put out a $10,000 contract on him, Mark is then shanked by fellow inmate and believed-to-be friend, Jimmy Loughnan (Simon Lyndon) who wants no part on his siege of the Painters and Dockers. Stabbed a total of seven times, Mark shows no signs of struggle and zero fear in this potentially life-threatening time. Instead, Mark takes control of the situation, remains as cool as a polar bear’s toenails and prevents Loughnan from fatally stabbing him.

Less than a mere 20 minutes into the runtime and we’ve seen an ample amount of ruthlessness inside the Victoria prison and a detailed insight into Mark Read’s chaotic life behind bars. His retort whilst in the hospital in recovery, “If your mum stabbed you, what do you do? You don’t get upset. You don’t get angry. You go, ‘Shit, mum stabbed me. I better get off to the hospital’”. Later to hysterically but nonetheless disturbingly shout over to the next cell at Loughnan, “You weak cunt. You could have had me but you lost your guts. If I had that knife, you wouldn’t have had a stab in the arm, I’d have cut your fucking head off”.

In a failed negotiation to change prisons for security, the film has perhaps its most well known scene, involving Mark having both his ears sliced off by another inmate to be relocated to the mental health wing to spend the remainder of his sentence.

Wholeheartedly, I know the that scene with Michael Madsen in Reservoir Dogs is deemed far more prolific that this scene in Chopper. However, this ear-cutting scene is far more stomach-churning to witness as its common knowledge this actually happened inside Pentridge. It’s far more winceworthy to sit through and observe as it doesn’t shy away from the grotesque mutilation. All the while, Bana slings out zingers such as, “Don’t saw at it!”, “Rip into it, slash it off!”. Again, displaying bugger all emotion like the deranged nutcase he is.

Eventually released from prison – in the most fictionalised portion of Dominik‘s film, is a run in with someone Mark had previously shot before his imprisonment, Neville Bartos (Vince Colosimo).

Learning that Neville supplies most of the cocaine to the western suburbs of Melbourne, Mark uses that to his advantage and pays his old associate a visit. Demanding he gives Mark some of his wealth, Neville refuses. Mark then shoots Neville again, this time in the abdomen before driving him to the hospital. Loading him into the car, Neville is bleeding like a pig. With a wisecrack, Mark unmercifully tells Neville to “stop making such a bloody big fuss over such a bloody small hole”. Swiftly following up with, “I’ll put one in the brain next time”. Radically sadist banter us as an audience can nervously howl at.

Mark then continues his nostalgic trip down memory lane and pays another old adversary a visit. This time, stab-happy Jimmy Loughnan.

At Jimmy’s apartment that he shares with his pregnant fiancée and his young daughter, Mark reveals he is working with the police, stating he has the authority to shoot criminals. Acknowledging to Jimmy that he is aware of the contract against his life, Mark threatens Jimmy into surrender, only to quickly apologise.

Again, Bana is callous and cold-blooded. Intimidating Jimmy into him confessing he was meant to carry out the contract is astounding to watch. His dark sense of humour of which people often misinterpret, lead to “Chopper” into being a bounteous menace.

In the third and final act of Chopper, we see another novelised glimpse into what Mark Read would eventually confess to during that 60 Minutes Australia airing in 2013 – the murder of Siam Ozerkam (Sammy the Turk).

Becoming pally with Sammy the Turk at Bojangles bar, the two head out into the parking lot of Bojangles where after a brief argument, Mark shoots Sammy in the face with a sawed-off shotgun, leading to his swiftly followed death.

Mandy, Jimmy Loughnan’s fiancée witnesses the murder of Sammy from the other side of the parking lot. In a quick cut to a court room, it is revealed that Sammy took Mark out into the car park for Jimmy to cash in on the contract against Mark. Luckily for Mark however, he beats the murder charges but is instead sentenced to five years for the malicious wounding of Neville Bartos.

Chopper ends with the filming of television segment of Mark being interviewed about his scandalous crimes for Australian TV, showcasing the non-existent repentance he has. Later watching the segment from his prison cell, Mark being the self-aware narcissist he is, maniacally laughs at the whole ordeal and exclaims, “I come across intelligent but tough”. Partly fictionalised or not, it’s as plain as day that Mark Brandon “Chopper” Read loves what he does, no matter how unlawful and psychotic it is.

Chopper isn’t just a hideous nor exploitative display of violence and crime all in all. It’s tactical and fruitful depiction into the lunacy and instability of one of Australia’s most recognisable evildoers. Eric Bana puts on an acting masterclass, one of which he honestly hasn’t eclipsed since. The sketch comedian-turned-dramatic-actor bedazzles as “Chopper”. His delivery as a well-accomplished, well thought out and outright violent professional criminal is freakishly uncanny to the real deal Mark “Chopper” Read. Bana truly embodies the real-life figure and fabricated character, right down to nailing his raspy accent and personifying his reprehensible mannerisms.

Too, Chopper is a proportionately stylish film. Andrew Dominik exhibits his aptitude for profound storytelling and constructing a signature pizzazz, which we see in future projects such as the back-to-back Brad Pitt-led The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford and Killing Them Softly. The Shakespearean finale uses poetry within Mark’s elaborate monologue, brought to life with a whirlwind series of intricate camera takes, camera angles, zoom shots and neon-soaked colours lighting up the retelling of Sammy the Turk’s murder as if it was a melodramatic, theatrical act within a play. It’s a truly dazzling feat of creative narration from Dominik and cinematography from Geoffrey Hall and Kevin Hayward.

Rightfully considered a cult classic 22 years after its original release, the Australian cinematic landmark receives a respectable and commendable treatment from Vertigo Releasing. Restored from the original 35mm print, Chopper is visually as arresting as it was two decades ago and includes a world-class performance that continues to be spectacularly fascinating and shocking for its spectators. Sitting alongside greats such as Mad Max, Romper Stomper and more recently, The Babadook and Hounds of Love, Dominik’s revolutionary debut once more asserts itself above its Aussie territory, deservedly earning a place among the greatest crime films of all-time from around the world.

★★★★★


Crime, Drama | Australia, 2000 | 18 | Cinema, Digital HD | 25th March 2022 (UK) | Vertigo Releasing | Dir.Andrew Dominik | Eric Bana, Vince Colosimo, David Field, Fred Barker, Simon Lyndon, Skye Wansey


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