CHOPPER came out in 2000 and in the 8 years since I don’t think I’ve seen too many characters or performances as good as Eric Bana playing Mark Brandon Read, whose friends call him Chopper and he calls himself Uncle Chop Chop. I never heard of him before the movie but he’s a real Australian criminal who became a celebrity writing his memoirs while he was locked up. And the movie’s based on some of those.
It’s kind of a weird movie. It threw me at first because it doesn’t have much of a structure and it’s kind of a small story. Maybe I was expecting some kind of crime epic or something, but instead a bunch of stuff happens and then it ends. I prefer a tight story but it still had me. It was so captivating I ended up watching it again the next day.
And the reason is this character of Chopper. He’s so funny and likable and yet clearly a dangerous psychopath. Maybe you can forgive him killing criminals, but then he punches his girlfriend. And when her mom intervenes he headbutts her! I mean come on. You don’t disrespect someone’s mama, and in my opinion headbutting is a sign of disresepect.
Chopper is a scary lookin dude. He’s big, covered in shitty tattoos, he’s got some fake teeth in the front and after a certain point in the movie his ears are fucked up. Because he had a guy cut them off in pirson. Long story. But his real talents are mental, he knows how to fuck with people. Like when he visits the house of Jimmy, his old friend who betrayed and stabbed him in prison. And he scares the shit out of him by being too friendly, too jokey. “Wife and kids, eh? The sort of thing that could be used against a fella,” he laughs as if it could really be just a couple buddies teasing each other.
His relationship with the police is funny too. He goes to them and tells them he’s going to help clean the scum off the streets. When they tell him repeatedly that they can’t endorse something like that he laughs and agrees in a sarcastic voice as if they’re wink wink nudge nudging him. Later he thinks a guy is after him, kills the guy, then decides he was wrong. So he goes to the police with a cover story about shooting him in self defense. But they already picked up a guy so they think Chopper’s lying. He should take it as a lucky break but he’s too proud. He gets indignant: “I’ve never been so insulted in all my life!” – and tries to prove to them he did it.
The other thing that’s funny about Chopper as portrayed in the movie is that he’s this cut throat motherfucker but then whenever he gets somebody he immediately feels bad about it. Always apologizing. Sometimes it’s really funny, like when he shoots a guy but ends up accompanying him to the hospital. Other times it’s kind of creepy, like when he viciously shanks a guy in prison, then is immediately washed over with this look of profound regret. And offers him a cigarette. And tells him everything will be alright. But then when the screws show up he tells them “Looks like he did himself a mischief.” Kind of schizophrenic.
I wouldn’t say the tone of the movie was schizophrenic though. There are many, many laughs in the movie but they mostly come from the funny things Chopper says. The tone of the movie is still serious, and in the end you get the idea that his bluster is all kind of for show. When it comes down to it he’s still locked by himself in a little cell.
And Bana is so incredible in the role he should forever be Eric “Chopper” Bana. He’s so funny, so scary and so convincing in his turmoil, which is all shown in his face. He would never admit it. I’m always excited to see Bana in a movie and it’s because of this one. Going back and watching it again after being used to the Bana of HULK and MUNICH is amazing – at first it doesn’t even look like the same guy.
It’s incredible that such a Guinness Book performance would be his first movie role. But what’s even more incredible is that in Australia at the time he was known for sketch comedy and the real Chopper chose him for the role. How the fuck did he know? Maybe he should be a casting agent.
The director is Andrew Dominik who went on to do THE ASSASSINATION OF JESSE JAMES BY THE ETC. ETC. years later. I was surprised to see him get so much acclaim on his second movie, but this one’s got some good directing. There are some gimmicks like a scene where all the characters narrate in rhyme or a time lapse shot of a crime scene investigation from the POV of the corpse. But it never feels hyperactive or anything.
I thought so at the time and I know for sure now – this is one for the pantheon. Required viewing for afficionados of the badass cinema.
October 10th, 2009 at 12:40 pm
Oh what a fucking surprise, you CUNTS and FAGGOTS don’t even comment on goddam fucking CHOPPER! But I bet if this were TOP GUN or LOST BOYS it’d be loaded with fucking community HIGH FIVES yeaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaah.
J/K calm down all you bitches. I’ll sing six YMCAs and watch Priscilla and Too Wong Foo back-to-back for penance k. Anyways, ya, for a huge nasty lookin fucking scary dude it’s interesting that Chopper strats are primarily mental. One time when he was actually captured at gunpoint by a rival (via a fake police pullover) he survived the encounter by digging his grave so enthusiastically that his captor let his guard down in a moment long enough for Chop Chop to club him with the shovel and bury the dick.
Or so says his book… A point worth noting – I read 5 of his books and they are so full of shit that they even contradict themselves (a lot). Not really in a bad way – I very much enjoyed them – but Chopper himself regularly says to never let the truth get in the way of a good story. I love how his first book ends with the tough motto (he used French) “I regret nothing”, and then his next says “What bullshit, I regret everything” which is a more reasonable sentiment for a man who spent most of his life in prison. Fact is though, most of the movie is just as likely to be bullshit (and from the books alone I’m certain some parts are completely fictional). You get a better idea if you take the time to watch it with Chopper’s commentary though – well worth the time. It’s fucking hilarious when he laughs here and there remembering things, and his sombre tones when you can tell he’s not proud of every moment.
I ran into Chopper in a caravan park swimming pool when he was batheing with his mrs (a seriously charismatic and articulate guy – history and all, I seriously think he could’ve run for PM). That encounter comparison for me qualifies Bana for an Academy Award, which brings me to the reason I am posting.
You people (non-Australians and Americanised Australians) give way to much credit to Bana as an actor. I feel bad for you and embarrassed for us. See, Bana has done one decent role – and this was it – and everything since, I mean everything including Hulk, Star Trek, Funny People, Black Hawk Down, fucking ALL of it… is abysmal. Many Australians immediately recognise what he’s doing to be shocking, terrible, really fucking laughable acting. I remember sitting with a big group of my closer buds watching Bana on Lettermen and we were all just about crying with embarrassment. He was doing Nolte impressions – the worst impressions I’ve ever seen, and reminded the audience that he had his own comedy show in Australia. He neglected to add that it was one of the lowest rating shows of all time, and was axed after just a few episodes. And I watched those episodes, and I am still feeling the pain – the embarrsment for Bana – to see something go so wrong as when he brought Warrick Cappa on (Australian Football icon) and interviewed him Oprah style on a 1 hour talk show as Wazza – Bana’s ultra-poor, ultra-unfunny, impersonation favourite. Reminded of an Uncle who thought he was doing Daffy Duck by punching his wife at parties while talking out the side of his mouth, seriously – Bana is that ‘good’.
On top of that, he’s a dick. I mean, he’s okay enough in a normal way, but he’s mostly a dick. I went to an audience sitting of Surprise Surprise – a short-lived Australia version of Candid Camera for ‘celebrities’ (before Bana did any movies) and his setup was an obnoxioux patron at a restaurant. Bana took it all like a bitch without saying a single word to help anyone, and then ranted on like a macho king at the end how he was gonna kill the guy and nearly killed the guy and how lucky the guy was etc etc. I was sitting with two Swedish guys I was renting with at the time and my friend yelled out “You’re a fucking Hero Bana” and got us all ejected the fucker. But he was right. Bana’s a bit of a tool.
So yeah – I’m glad you saw this Vern because as an Australian, I’m proud we actually can produce the occasional watchable film like this. Chopper’s a truly interesting character, though I think the mainstream Australian love and acceptance for this truly sadistic and brutal murdering thug is far more interesting. Would make for a better movie – though mebbe you could argue Stone already did that with Natural Born Killers (my 2nd favourite movie of all time). They forgive the fact that this guy has used a nailgun to hammer people’s knees, laughs about using bolt-cutters on people’s toes and even blowtorches peoples toes – even laughing about these things on live television (I kid you not). We pay him to do ads – on that note, you’ve all watched Bana, check out the real deal – couple ads that were unfortunately pulled soon after airing here:
Something else ironic though is we have a guy called Ronnie Johns who does Chopper impressions. Chopper himself went out hitting the clubs as a stand-up comedien for a while. The irony part is that Ronnie Johns impersonations of Chopper are more popular and make him more money than the real deal lol.
Here’s a video of Ronnie Johns doing Chopper: