Director: Andrew Dominik
Stars: Eric Bana
"Never let the truth get in the way of a good yarn." - Mark "Chopper" Read
When I go to the multiplexes of the 2000s I am reminded of the
restaurants of the 70s.
When I was a kid in the 70s there would be special family occasions when
we'd all traipse up to the best restaurant in the district, the St.
George Leagues Club, and in lieu of the steak and three veg that was our
usual evening meal we would order, as a special treat, steak and three
veg. You must understand that we weren't a particularly unadventurous
family, quite the opposite, we were one of the first people in the
street to try a fondue.
Its just that in the 70s, no matter which
restaurant you went to, the menu would have about four plates that fell
under the broad category of steak and three veg, or Chicken Maryland, or
Fish and Chips. Entrée would be either prawns or oysters, and dessert
would offer a choice of four flavours of ice cream or a Bombe Alaska.
If the local football team won that day, sitting near the kitchen door
could prove a fire hazard.
Which is why, when I go to the multiplexes of the 2000s, I am reminded
of the restaurants of the 70s. As you stare at the electronic sessions
board, you can usually choose from a menu of four different types of
Hollywood formula, or some French arthouse, or Hong Kong action.
This may help explain why Chopper is such a good movie.
Chopper for the first time is like the first time you had a really good
Thai Curry, like the first time you discovered that the Italians can do
something more than Bolognaise. It is so nice to see something
different work so well. The only moment of Hollywood in this movie is
when Chopper is spinning a fabrication to the good detectives at
Homicide about how Sammy the Turk came to grief in the carpark of the
Bojangles night club.
The opening shots tell us that this is not a biography of Mark Read and
as the movie pans out, we see two juxtaposing episodes from Mark's life.
Chopper opens in the 70s with a young Chopper trying to make a name for
himself in 'H' block, Pentridge Gaol. 'H' block was a section of Pentridge
given over to housing the worst criminal cases and Mark has a dream: he
wants to be head man at H block. By great good fortune the film makers
were allowed to film first part of the movie where the actual events
took place because this section of the gaol was shut down many years
Some time ago someone decided that the conditions here were far
too inhuman for the housing of mass murderers, serial rapists and bank
The second part of the movie is set in the 80s when Chopper is
released from Gaol and has to deal with the enemies he made climbing to
the top of 'H' block. Fortunately for Chopper, he has a green light from
the coppers; unfortunately for Chopper, there is a contract out on him.
There were three things that made Chopper work for me.
The use of film is superb. When a director experiments with the camera
and the filmstock there is a danger the end product will look like a
wanky upmarket ad for Merchant Banking - but not here. Early in the
first reel, the use of gradual over-exposure and blue wash enhances the scene of Chopper
bleeding dangerously close to death. And late in the final reel, the use of
combined with rhyming couplets to show the final moments of Sammy the
Turk are truly surreal.
The acting. Half way through Chopper there is a three second scene
with two guard dogs who are called upon to behave viciously. I thought
the dog on the left was holding back a little, but beyond that I cannot
find any other fault in any other acting performance. The leads and the
supports in this movie will all need to build a bigger bookshelf come
the AFI awards.
And last, but not least, the subject himself. Chopper is a both a very
funny and a very scary man. He stands out from the mindless thugs
around him - not because of his propensity for violence or indifference to
pain - but because he has something they do not have. A brain. Although
he has next to no education, Mark is extraordinarily perceptive of what
is happening around him and he is extraordinarily good at playing mind
And he never shuts down that brain. When he is standing unarmed
in a locked cell with nine stab wounds it is the man holding the knife
who is afraid, not Mark, because while seriously injured he is still
playing with your mind.
At the end of the movie I was angry. Simply because the movie had ended
and there would be no more. Go see it.
(c)opyright Jeffrey Meikle, 2000.