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Chopper Reviews

An amalgam of Billy the Kid, the Kray Brothers and Jack Henry Abbot, Mark "Chopper" Read (named for a kiddie cartoon character or his habit of slicing off people's toes with a bolt-cutter, depending on who you believe) is a phenomenon in his native Australia. Read claims to have committed more than a dozen murders — though he was tried and convicted for a single killing — and isn't a bit sorry; his victims were all drug dealers and villains who only got what was coming to them. Chopper's devil-may-care attitude, gutter style and over-the-top exploits sold newspapers like crazy, and he eventually stopped wasting brutal bon mots on ink-stained scribblers and instead spun his jocular justifications into a series of memoirs of his life in crime. The first, Chopper from the Inside, was written from prison and became a bestseller. The trouble is, Chopper is an obvious self-aggrandizer, a born storyteller who'd never let dreary facts get in the way of a good yarn, so it's impossible to know how much of his boasting to believe. That said, when Chopper was told he'd never be granted a transfer out of Melbourne's notorious Pentridge prison, he got another inmate to slice off his ears with a razor and grinned all the way to new digs in a prison hospital. What couldn't a guy like that do? First-time feature filmmaker Andrew Dominik focuses on two periods: Chopper's (Eric Bana) late '70s prison stay, during which he terrorizes other prisoners, is nearly murdered by best friend Jimmy Loughnan (Simon Lyndon) and does the bit with the ears, and a brief period in the mid-'80s when Chopper was again wild in the streets. While bunking with his Dad (Kenny Graham), Chopper terrorizes his hooker girlfriend (Kate Beahan), messes with junkie Jimmy L., shoots one dealer (Vince Colosimo) and kills another (Serge Liistro) — the nasty bit of business that lands him back in the slammer. Though handsomely photographed and designed, the film doesn't really say much about Chopper or the cult of criminal celebrity. But it hardly matters, because Bana's performance is nothing short of electrifying. Best known as a TV comic, his swaggering body language and mercurial moods are both terrifying and queasily funny; he makes you buy Chopper's rough-hewn appeal at the same time you hope you'd have had the sense to get the hell out of his way.