Whilst serving a 16-year prison sentence for abducting a judge, Mark Read (Eric Bana) comes into conflict with a crime boss, whom he murders. Fearing retribution, he cuts off one of his ears in order to get a transfer to another prison. Years later he seeks to get even with his enemies.
This portrait of a maniacal hitman is both repellant and dizzyingly fascinating. We first meet Mark Read in prison, establishing his autonomy in Pentridge's H Division in a violent and completely unrepentant manner. It's easy to see that even Read's mates deal with him with circumspection. But mates he does have, like Jimmy Loughnan (Simon Lyndon) who will have his own way of dealing with Chopper. But one thing Chopper has going for him is his unbelievable insouciance at his own misdeeds – as he says, never let the truth get in the way of a good yarn...
Eric Bana is absolutely extraordinary as Read
Chopper marks the feature debut of writer/director Andrew Dominik, who's taken on an extremely challenging subject in Chopper and what he's achieved is extraordinary. He doesn't eulogise Read, he doesn't excuse him, and he makes no attempt to ingratiate him with audiences. We're appalled at Read's actions and attitude and at the same time amused at his outrageous bravado. Shining through this film is Eric Bana's performance – he's absolutely extraordinary as Read – and he's surrounded by a depth of performance rarely seen in Australian films. The look of the film, the austerity, the zany colour reflecting Read's view of his world is a major plus. The soundtrack another.
David's Comment: There'll be plenty of debate about the way this film approaches the character of self-confessed murderer and standover man Chopper Read but there's no doubting the intelligence of Andrew Dominik's direction, the skill with which the screenplay shifts on a beat from horror to sly humour or the astonishing performance of Eric Bana in the leading role. Disturbing, funny and confronting.