Directed by Andrew Dominik
Available now from Second Sight Films
Mark Brandon Read, also known by the moniker Chopper, is serving a prison sentence for abducting a judge, but during his stint behind bars, he makes fresh enemies on the inside. In what he sees as a kill or be killed scenario, and with the aim to be top dog, he does whatever he thinks it takes to be the man running H division. However, his approach to jail is very much his approach to life outside of it, and upon release he finds himself battling his paranoia, insecurities and jealousy of others, especially those he sees as profiteering from his exploits. With bounties on his head, both inside and outside of prison, for Chopper, it’s all about being the one who strikes first to stay on top in order to survive.
Eric Bana turns in an outstanding performance as the titular Aussie bad lad in critically-acclaimed CHOPPER – a film based on the real life criminal Mark Brandon Read, from his autobiography ‘From The Inside’. Whilst being a film based on fact, the movie is quite upfront about narrative liberties which have been taken, and the real life Read having been known to embellish truths, it’s quite fitting. Two decades after the film’s initial release in 2000, Second Sight have given CHOPPER the special edition treatment on Limited Edition Blu-ray and it does not disappoint!
It’s been a while since I last set eyes on the film but it’s as incredible now as it was then with Eric Bana captivating as the comedic, laid-back criminal Mark Chopper Read. They say personality goes a long way and this feels like it was certainly the case as Read became quite the celebrity in Australia, penning books and appearing on TV, not to mention becoming a successful stand-up comedian. Whilst never convicted of murder, Read confessed to killing four people in a TV interview shortly before his death from liver cancer in 2013. Even to the end, he was a character that could not be subdued, always eager to have his say.
In the movie, Bana depicts Read as a man who’s very impulsive who sometimes regrets his actions immediately after he’s done them, but occasionally decides to continue anyway. Read’s flop flop mentality sees him switch from friend to foe and sometimes back to friend again afterwards, such as his relationship with former cellmate Jimmy Loughnan, played by Simon Lyndon. He’s the kind of character that isn’t afraid to be bosom buddies with someone whilst concealing the fact his finger is on the trigger ready to pop a bullet into their head. This temperamental personality, despite being incredibly witty and entertaining to watch, is frightening to behold as, at any moment, a situation could go south. With the movie more of a series of scenes and experiences rather than a traditionally structured plot, it’s a film that relies upon the atmosphere and performances from its stars to elicit emotions – that fear and edginess where you know at any minute all hell could break loose, and if it does, it’s sure to be bloody savage!
The movie follows Mark ‘Chopper’ Read from prison to life on the the outside, and in each scenario a suffocating tension fills the room as we witness the calm before the inevitable storm. No matter what happens, trouble is afoot, it just can’t be avoided. Knowing this, it’s extremely uncomfortable watching and waiting for the chaos to erupt. There’s an element of hope that Read will find some sort of peace, but it appears that as long as he feels he’s not in control of a situation, things must come to a head – often in a terrifying way. Judging from his parental influence, it’s of little surprise Read is the way he is with his father appearing to encourage his son’s behaviour and with Read himself feeling as though he has an image to uphold.
CHOPPER is unlike anything else I’ve ever seen. You’ve got this incredibly intimidating and dangerous guy who could end you at any moment, yet the film is laced with this black humour that ends up endearing you to him. He’s charismatic with such a dry, dark sense of humour about him that he’s so fascinating to watch and listen to. It’s no surprise that the real Mark Read became such a successful author, such is his way of storytelling, all the while adding a spoonfuls of embellishment. From his depiction in the movie, of which is very much similar to the man himself, you’ve got to remind yourself that this bloke was actually a notorious criminal who got away with murder and had violently tortured and maimed people (usually other criminals). In one moment, he’s the heart and soul of the scene, cracking jokes. In the next, tempers have flared and someone’s laying in a pool of blood. Just like there’s two sides to a coin, there’s two sides to Mark Read, and they can flip from one to the other in an instant.
Despite only playing out in a handful of locations, CHOPPER makes full use of the environments and feels as though we’re a fly on the wall of each interaction. From the cold, sparse jail to the vibrant, music-filled Bojangles night club, it feels as though we’re a bystander in these worlds, watching events unfold in real-time. Perhaps one of the most frightening is Loughnan’s apartment where he lives with his wife and child. This dirty, dingy flat reflects the life Loughnan and his missus are living, with the couple both hooked on drugs. As his wife caresses Read’s gun in the living room in front of their young daughter, you kind of despair at these degenerates as they’re no better than the boogeyman who is paying them a visit.
With its subtle yet effective score and creative editing and cinematography, complimenting the powerful performance from Eric Bana, CHOPPER is a one-of-a-kind, just like the man himself. A brutally charismatic experience. Fans of Nicolas Winding Refn’s Bronson will find a lot to enjoy here.
Second Sight Films have restored CHOPPER from a 2K graded scan and have released the film on Blu-Ray as a Standard Edition Blu-ray as well as a Limited Edition Blu-ray, the latter of which is complete with rigid slipcase featuring new artwork by Nick Charge, six collector’s art cards and a 70 page booklet featuring new essays. Both limited edition and standard edition Blu-Rays of Chopper from Second Sight Films include the following new and archival special features:
Audio Commentary with Alexandra Heller-Nicholas and Josh Nelson
Australian film critic and author, Alexandra Heller-Nicholas, and fellow Aussie, film scholar Josh Nelson, collaborate on this cracking commentary of Chopper. Their enthusiasm for the film is infectious as they discuss the film and share background information about the film, its stars, the characters and the locations, such as the prison, with plenty of stories to boot! A fantastic pairing with bubbly personalities that make their commentary a pleasure to listen to.
Audio Commentary with Director Andrew Dominik
Andrew Dominik provides insight into the filmmaking process and what he was trying to capture with tidbits related to each scene.
Audio Commentary with Mark Brandon ‘Chopper’ Read
A surprisingly calm Mark Read gives his input and background on the movie in this commentary, highlighting what aspects of the film are accurate and giving his verdict on Eric Bana who played him in the film. A great listen to hear from the man himself on how the film compares to his life.
Stand Up Comedy and Violence – An Interview with Director Andrew Dominik (29 mins 10 secs)
Not Your Typical Composer – An Interview With Composer Mick Harvey (10 mins 12 secs)
A jovial Mick Harvey talks about his role as composer for Chopper and how they went for a minimal score for the film, blending music with the sound design. He discusses his approach to creating the film’s music, involving samples and keyboard for the fight scenes, and how he works best with filmmakers he knows well.
A Tale of Two Halves – An Interview with Editor Ken Sallows (13 mins 38 secs)
Ken Sallows gives background on certain scenes in the movie and the approach to editing, as well as talking about many other aspects involved in the shoot. He also highlights that the first 21 scenes of the film were cut, which backs up Andrew’s earlier statement of only keeping what’s necessary.
Weekend With Chopper (16 mins 16 secs)
Footage shot in the late 90’s of Mark ‘Chopper’ Read during Andrew Dominik and Eric Bana’s visit. Read talks about the cutting of his ears, life in prison and the making of the movie.
Behind The Scenes (30 mins)
Behind the scenes footage of the making of the film including the prison scenes, scenes at Neville’s pad, moments with Chopper’s dad, and Sam the Turk scenes at Bojangles’ car park.
Deleted Scenes (12 mins 42 secs)
A small selection of deleted scenes including Hokey The Cripples, which features both the real Mark Read and Eric Bana as Mark performing the story; Billiard Ball involving Keith and Chopper; and Ghost.
Deleted Scenes with Director’s Commentary (12 mins 42 secs)
Same as above except Andrew Dominik provides commentary on the scenes included.