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Chopper (R)
Image Entertainment
Official Site
Director: Andrew Dominik
Producers: Michele Bennett
Written by: Andrew Dominik,
based on the book by Mark Brandon Read
Cast: Eric Bana, Simon Lyndon, Kenny Graham, Dan Wyllie, David Field, Vince Colosimo, Kate Beahan

out of 5

Sometimes truth is stranger than fiction, but more often than not fiction and truth are intertwined randomly to create a good story. The latter is certainly the case with the sometimes excessively violent, often funny story of Mark “Chopper” Read, notorious criminal, best-selling author and “regular bloke.”

CHOPPER opens with a disclaimer stating that the story is based on fact but that it is a dramatization and that certain liberties have been taken. A disclaimer like this sets me up to find out just what in the story is based on fact and what devices are simply there to generate dramatic tension. And after having seen the film, I couldn’t tell you. Chopper is such a complex and strange man (or character) that there is no way to separate what he says into what is true and what is made up. His actions don’t have logical meanings and his imagination is far too real (at least to him) to try to understand why. Why he acts the way he does, why he says the things he says, why he wants to be a criminal, etc.

But a few points can be clarified. Chopper (Bana) wants to make a name for himself as a criminal figure. He wants to be respected and famous. However, he doesn’t seem to want to hurt anybody or make enemies. After receiving a long sentence for a botched kidnapping attempt, Chopper tries to take control of Division H, a maximum-security section of Melbourne’s Pentridge Prison, by knifing the current man in command. But after he has punctured his face and neck many times and the man is left lying in a puddle of his own blood, Chopper apologizes and offers him a cigarette. Later, Chopper cuts off his own ears to be transferred out of Division H, having made enemies of every inmate including his “best mate” Jimmy. And these things haunt him throughout the rest of his life in the forms of remorse, guilt, paranoia and sensitivity (he is most sensitive about his ears).

Eight years later, Chopper is released from prison and by this time seems a merely a simulation of a hardened criminal. But he is driven by resentment and guilt as he searches for some amorphous enemy, which anyone can become, at any time, depending on how Chopper reinvents his circumstances to fit his needs, continually blending fact and fiction.

The now-older Chopper seems lost in paranoia and presentation of his reputation, his body and mind marked with the scars of (perhaps) too many battles. He quickly finds his way back into criminal life, only now on the side of the law—having a “green light” from the police to kill the criminal “scum” as he sees fit. Learning of a contract on his life, Chopper visits best mate Jimmy and finds him sickly from drugs and a life-long failure. Jimmy is, however, acting oddly and Chopper, suspecting something is not quite right between him and Jimmy, quickly leaves. Later that night in a moment of extreme paranoia, Chopper kills a minor criminal, “Sammy the Turk.” Chopper manages to beat the murder rap, but is sent back to prison for another offense. In prison he writes Chopper, a best-selling account of his life and crimes. From the book Chopper gains the notoriety he has always wanted as Australia’s number one hitman, but in the end Chopper still seems confused, leaving me to ask the question once more—why?

And I guess Chopper provides the best answer: “Never let the truth get in the way of a good story.”

Ed. note: “Chopper” recently finished writing a children’s book, but reportedly is having trouble finding a publisher.

— Eric Vanstrom

hybridCinema Ratings Guide:

Take a pal and pay full price for both tickets.

Itís worth a full-price ticket.

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