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Eric Bana...............Mark "Chopper" Read
Simon Lyndon............Jimmy Loughnan
David Field.............Keithy George
Daniel Wyllie...........Bluey
Bill Young..............Det. Downie
Vince Colosimo..........Neville Bartos
Kenny Graham............Keith Read
Kate Beahan.............Tanya
Serge Liistro...........Sammy the Turk
Pam Western.............Tanya's Mother
Garry Waddell...........Kevin Darcy
Brian Mannix............Ian James
Skye Wansey.............Mandy
Annalise Emtsis.........Shazzy
Johnnie Targhan.........Paul the Bouncer

Directed by: Andrew Dominik

Written by: Andrew Dominik

Not Rated

Running Time: 1 hour, 33 minutes

Reviewed by Michael Brendan

Mark "Chopper" Read is Australia's most notorious career criminal. He has also achieved status as one of his country's best selling authors. His autobiography, called "From the Inside", has sold over 250,000 copies and he possesses an unusually strong cult following. Read currently lives in rural Tasmania.

Based upon the aforementioned book, Andrew Dominik's movie about the infamous serial killer isn't so much a biography as a blistering satire showcasing a man who inexplicably meshes sadism and charm. He commits heinous acts, can somehow endear himself to a jury, and pens books with titles like "How To Shoot Friends and Influence People".

I've heard and read comments from individuals who decry the film for its depiction of Chopper Read, showing him more as an engaging eccentric than a vicious murderer. One reviewer claimed the movie attempts to justify his fame. However, Read was already well-known in his native Australia long before Andrew Dominik's darkly comic script began to materialize. Based on that, the approach taken here is actually rather optimistic, as it tries to uncover the source of what makes him fascinating to so many. A more cynical take would simply dismiss his "fans" as bloodthirsty pinheads. There has to be a reason, Dominik seems to be arguing, so let's try to find it.

Australian stand-up comic Eric Bana portrays Chopper as inherently vicious, but also funny ... and charming, and sad, and angry, and histrionic, and even brooding and introspective at times. His performance is a multi-faceted masterpiece, daring a viewer to formulate an opinion, then challenging that opinion, then challenging it some more.

The movie consists of two main segments. The first half takes place in 1978 and shows Read serving time for kidnapping a judge presiding over the trial of his best friend, Jimmy (Simon Lyndon). After being taunted by a fellow inmate, Chopper seeks revenge (and gets it in bloody fashion.) He is subsequently betrayed by a close ally, survives the attack, but now realizes he needs to watch his back. To obtain a transfer into a separate wing, he engages in a skin crawling bout of self-mutilation.

The film's second half follows Chopper after his release years later. He's a few pounds heavier, is decorated with mounds of tattoos, and has lost several teeth but not his unusual sense of humor. He is still seeking vengeance for the prison betrayal, but finds time to spend with his hooker girlfriend, Tanya (Kate Beahan). Her attraction toward drug dealer Neville Bartos (Vince Colosimo) places both of them into the crosshairs of Chopper's fury.

The movie's genius lies in its resistance to bowl an audience over with a clear cut message. Instead, Dominik and Bana have created a film that invites strong opinions and facilitates even stronger discussions. The movie, like its lead character, is a gleeful contradiction. At various points in the story, Chopper seems to feel genuine remorse for his violent acts, yet he still wastes no time in committing them if he feels the need. (One scene has him firing a bullet into the belly of an enemy, then curiously driving him to the hospital.) His proclivity for killing isn't the result of self-loathing or a retaliation against a painful childhood; it just makes sense to him. The man can be a tornado of ferocity one second, witty and charming the next. He can be remorseful sometimes, and can manage broad smiles for tv cameras at other times. The man is a true enigma, impossible to comprehend, and the movie wisely doesn't make an effort. To make a definitive statement about Chopper Read would rob the film of its ability to bend and twist a viewer's perception.

I get a kick out of people who convey their shock at the nation's fascination with killing. A cloud of pomposity hovers over such statements. Saying you're shocked at young people's interest in such things doesn't make you moral, it just makes you blind. And it doesn't make young people killers, either. If anyone reading these words can think back through their entire lives and not come up with a person or two whose eradication wouldn't have been a tremendous societal loss, then you're a better human being than me. When I compare the number of people who actually die with the number of intolerable asinine twits roaming around the world, the greater volume always seems to rest with the latter. Yes, murder is immoral, illegal, and sickening. Yes, Read was perhaps the most ferocious of criminals. And yes, I believe if we lived in a bizarre parallel universe where killing wasn't illegal, guys like Mark "Chopper" Read would be the life of the party.

Copyright 2001 Michael Brendan McLarney

Critically Ill

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