The story of Chopper is not as compelling as the performance in the movie of Eric Bana, the actor who portrays Chopper. American audiences will be at a disadvantage on both points, since both Chopper and Bana are distinctly Australian properties, virtually unknown in the States. Mark "Chopper" Read is a best-selling author and convicted murderer. He has a colorful personality and a dark sense of humor that pervades his autobiography From the Inside. Bana (The Castle, Black Hawk Down) is a wildly popular comedian, whose rise to stardom came with a Saturday Night Live-type sketch comedy show in Australia. He went seriously against type by taking the role of Chopper.

To understand Bana's performance, it is necessary to understand the character of Chopper. Chopper is so extreme that he is a caricature. He is prone to excessively violent outbursts that often result in the severe maiming or death of those around him. Chopper also has charisma. He can sweet-talk his way into anything. If that doesn't work, then threats will. In a move that humanizes him and also makes him seem more psychotic, he feels remorse after each act, going so far as to apologize to his victim (say, for shooting him with a shotgun through the eye). Bana, who gained weight for the role, does not seem like he is acting. It is frightening at times watching him explode on the screen. He switches quickly from a normal demeanor to one of intense rage. Bana has the look and swagger of a violent offender, but also manages to express genuine shock that he can act so horrendously.

Writer/director Andrew Dominick does not fare so well in other areas of Chopper. The movie plays out as a series of extended vignettes, offering little to no insight into Chopper's charisma. It is easy to Dominick to show violence on screen (especially given the subject manner), but not easy to explain it. At the end of the movie, the viewer knows nothing about who Chopper really is. Chopper begins with Chopper in jail. He quickly makes alienates himself from both his enemies and friends, and cuts off his ears to get transferred. This only helps him in the psycho department. Once out of jail, Chopper has a grand illusion of the criminal he wants to be. He wants to reform, but also wants to be famous. His actual exploits are not as exciting, so he goes about lying to criminals and police to enlarge his reputation. Part of what made Chopper so outrageous was his own exaggeration of his exploits. Dominick shows very little of this, preferring to show the act over the imagined act. What emerges is an incomplete picture of a potentially fascinating person. Chopper won the Australian equivalent of an Academy award for Best Actor, Best Supporting Actor, and Best Director. Notably missing is any mention of a story.

Mongoose Rates It: Not That Good.
1 hour, 35 minutes, Not Rated but contains language, violence, and nudity (male-eek!), an easy R.

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