Chopper (Andrew Dominik, 2000)
[originally posted 12Dec2001]
Andrew Dominik makes his writing and directing debut with the fictionalized biography of Mark “Chopper” Read, well-known Australian criminal and bestselling novelist. Eric Bana, soon to be seen in a theater near you in Ang Lee’s version of The Hulk, stars as Chopper, a man who dreams of being the world’s best-known (and loved) criminal. Problem is, he just can’t seem to get anyone to take him seriously. The astute viewer will spend much of the film wondering why, and then realized that the “fictionalized” part of the biography is Chopper himself; it would be hard to argue with the hypothesis that, if Chopper were really as witty and intelligent as the film makes him out to be, he probably WOULD be the world’s best-known and best-loved criminal. Bana throws one-liners even faster than Red Skelton did, and he rarely misses a good shot (verbally, anyway). Through the eyes of Dominik, Mark Read really is the “good bloke down on his luck” in which he’s portrayed in interviews.
Then the astute viewer starts thinking. Is this really the case of hero worship that it seems to be? The script says yes; the direction, on the other hand, says Dominik is just as astute a filmmaker as he expects his viewers to be. Between the lines of the script are beautiful nonverbal depictions of the hopelessness and frustration that dog Chopper’s every footstep, from the look on Bana’s face during the initial confrontation to the film’s last shot, of Read sitting alone in a cell, backlit and looking as forlorn as the day is long. Dominik is obviously very familiar with the conventions of noir, and he uses them here effectively, giving the movie a depth and flavor that turns it from an enjoyable romp through one man’s megalomania into a more balanced portrait. Very nicely done, and hopefully (assuming Read isn’t as astute as the rest of the viewers, natch) we’ll be hearing more from Dominik in the future. *** ½