Combustible Celluloid
Get the Poster
Own it:
Search for streaming:
NetflixHuluGoogle PlayGooglePlayCan I
With: Eric Bana, Simon Lyndon, David Field, Dan Wyllie, Bill Young, Vince Colosimo
Written by: Andrew Dominik, based on books by Mark Brandon Read
Directed by: Andrew Dominik
MPAA Rating: Unrated
Running Time: 93
Date: 08/03/2000

Chopper (2001)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Killer Storytelling

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Film always romanticizes its subject, but this time around, the subject in question is aware of its romanticism. Written and directed by Andrew Dominik, the film Chopper does not claim to be a bio-pic, and is in fact based solely upon real-life killer and author Mark "Chopper" Read's books. And if we can glean anything from the character in the movie, we might even assume that those books may be more bluster than fact.

We follow Chopper's story as he kills a man in prison, then avoids a death warrant by cutting off his own ears. Upon his release, he works as both a police informant and a sleazeball, killing anyone he deems to be unsavory. The film is bookended with Chopper showing off for a TV interviewer, bragging about his near-illiteracy and the love letters he gets from various women all over the world. And, in fact, the female reporter conducting the interview nearly salivates over him.

Clearly the actor and comedian Eric Bana nails down the new film Chopper and makes it stick. His performance as Chopper is a fearless tour-de-force. He's completely physically and emotionally at home with this sicko character, and it's his presence and power that make the film so troubling.

The disturbing aspect of Chopper is that Read's acts of violence are so pointless and that he's so charming. Watching Chopper is like watching Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer (1990), but without the sense of horror�the sense of wrong. Chopper makes it seem cool to be outside the law, and not only cool, but erotic at the same time. In one scene, Chopper meets his police connections in a bar and spies a sexy woman coming in the door. He unzips his pants and takes out his manhood, showing it to the woman, but hiding it from the cops' view behind the bar. (The woman is, of course, thrilled.) This film comes far closer to the point Oliver Stone tried and failed to make with Natural Born Killers (1994), that the media is obsessed with violent crime because we, the viewers, are even more obsessed.

Dominik attempts a fairly unjudgmental look at the scoundrel (who supposedly killed 19 people). To that end, the film makes Chopper's world dreary with its heavy, monochrome colors deadening nearly every scene, but Bana's amazing performance tips the scales from unpleasantness into both excitement and danger. Early in the film, one of his prison mates continually stabs him in the chest, but he barely even registers the pain. He simply stares back with an uncomprehending look. Our reaction is horrified and mesmerized at the same time.

Chopper is complex film and audiences' reactions to it will be equally complex. Whether or not you care if Chopper lives or dies, you simply can't take your eyes off him.

Movies Unlimtied