My favourite Aussie pic
Prior to writing this blog, I sat down to skip through a few of my favourite scenes from Chopper and ended up watching the whole film. Yet again. In retrospect, how could I resist: it is my favourite Australian film of all time.
The Australian male revealed
I have often told non-Australians and women of all nationalities that Chopper will teach them everything there is to know about Australian men. I say this because the film is based on author and criminal Mark Brandon Read – the opening subtitles carefully state that it is not biography, but “a dramatization in which narrative liberties have been taken” – and Read is the ultimate larrikin. The larrikin, according to my definition, is someone who makes light of everything, demands to be the centre of attention, is anti-authoritarian and has a confidence that makes him (or her I guess) wildly unpredictable. (That said, Read has characteristics a larrikin doesn’t necessarily have. As he says of himself in the film, “I’m just… a normal bloke who likes a bit of torture” – and take that as a warning, those of you who can’t take violence in their films – and “I get a bit schizoid”.)
Tour de force performance
Watching Eric Bana in the lead role is pure joy. Knowing it set up his international career is an additional pleasure that lingers at the back of the mind.
Great independent films are usually the result of one driving force – I include the word “independent”, because the statement doesn’t usually apply to the films that come out of Hollywood studio system – and the driving force here is writer/director Andrew Dominik. He has to take a lot of credit for the sheer beauty of seeing Bana’s transformation into Chopper, of the narrative cleverness, of the simple but breathtaking visual richness of the film, and so on and so on and so on. He also got brilliant performances out of Simon Lyndon as Jimmy Loughman, Dan Wyllie as Bluey, Vince Colosimo as Neville Bartos and David Field as Keithy George, proving beyond doubt that it’s not just Bana that shines. And Kate Beahan as Tanya and Bill Young as Detective Downie are pretty splendid too. All up, it’s a film that feels utterly original. (My last name is George and I grew up in Keith, so Keithy George is a spooky name to me, but that’s a very personal thing – and irrelevant here of course!)
There were several sections I had in mind to revisit when I shoved Chopper into the DVD player. I wanted to see the opening in prison, because it sets up the film so brilliantly. I wanted to get reacquainted with his father, because it so beautifully shows where Chopper got his persuasive nature and his ability to hold a grudge. And I wanted to see the dick sequence again for its unadulterated cheekiness. It is said that, in film, it is important that nothing is superfluous: from every scene through to every word of dialogue. And actually that’s the case with Chopper: every single bit of it must be watched.