Australia 2000

Reviewed by Danny Leigh


Our synopses give away the plot in full, including surprise twists.

Australia, 1991. From his prison cell, Mark 'Chopper' Read watches himself being interviewed on national television.

1978. In another jail, Read stabs top tough guy Keithy George who later dies from his wounds. George's associates place a contract on Read's head. Read is stabbed repeatedly by his best friend Jimmy Loughnan, but survives. Fearing for his life, he asks to be transferred to another jail. After his request is denied, he gets a fellow inmate to cut off his ears, thereby securing a medical transfer.

1986, Melbourne. On his release from prison, Read, now a minor celebrity, visits his father before reuniting with his girlfriend Tanya. That evening, the couple visit Bojangles nightclub where Read confronts Neville Bartos, a drug dealer he shot 10 years earlier. Convinced Bartos is having an affair with Tanya, he beats up his girlfriend and her mother. Visiting Bartos' home, he shoots his host before reluctantly driving him to hospital. With numerous contracts out on Read's life, Bartos hires Loughnan, now a junkie, to arrange his killing in the carpark of Bojangles. In the resulting fiasco, Read shoots Sammy, Loughnan's patsy. Claiming self-defence, Read is acquitted of murdering Sammy, but is sentenced to five years for shooting Bartos.

1991. Having published a best-selling memoir, Read continues watching his television interview from prison.


The omens do not bode well. A debut feature director, best known for his music videos, introduces his biography of an unrepentant, publicity-seeking thug by confessing via a title card that "liberties have been taken" with the facts of his story. But while this might prime audiences to expect a grisly Antipodean rehash of Guy Ritchie's depressingly influential Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, Andrew Dominik's Chopper emerges as something altogether different: a visually arresting and persuasively intelligent project during which Dominik announces himself as a film-maker of some style and potential.

Indeed, if this openly selective account of the life of Mark 'Chopper' Read (much to his own delight, second only to Ned Kelly in his country's pantheon of career criminals) shares common ground with any of the recent rash of British odes to the underworld, it is with Paul McGuigan's fine Gangster No. 1. Just like McGuigan's stringent morality tale, Chopper displays an aesthetic swagger far beyond the MTV gimcracks of Ritchie et al. Even its use of colour signposts the scope of Dominik's direction: deep, viscous reds hang over Read's visit to Bojangles nightclub (where drug dealer Bartos has arranged to have him shot dead); sickly, torpid greens dominate an encounter with junkie Jimmy Loughnan; and, most strikingly of all, drab, enervated blues illuminate our anti-hero's various sojourns in prison.

But if Gangster No. 1 used its dazzling physicality to heighten the grim hyperreality of its narrative, Chopper attempts a far trickier balancing act, infusing proceedings with a mordant humour miraculously free of glib romanticism. Certainly, one would be hard pushed to emerge from the film with any degree of sympathy for its protagonist; yet Dominik also draws a ripe, absurdist wit from his unsavoury misadventures. In one audaciously deadpan prison scene, for instance, Read is stabbed by fellow inmate Loughnan. As his supposed best friend plunges his knife into a baffled, seemingly impervious Read time and again - during which the victim gives his assailant a warm, sincere hug - the entire sequence resembles less the knowing Tarantino-esque bloodbath it could easily have become, more a bizarre, unsettling hybrid of Alan Clarke and Buster Keaton.

Similarly, although Dominik is unflinching when dealing with the horror of Read's abuse of his girlfriend, he avoids portraying his subject as a one-dimensional bogeyman. Instead, with his metal dental fronts, mutilated Spock-like ears and neurotic preoccupation with failure, Read emerges as both deeply repulsive and strangely pitiful. Avoiding either glamorisation or trite statement-making - limiting its analysis of Read's psychosis to a passing reference to an absent mother and a cheer-leading father who bids him farewell with the bon mot "cheers, big ears" - Dominik's film appears to be dealing in social realism as conceived by Dada.

All of which is aided immeasurably by the startling lead turn of sometime stand-up comedian Eric Bana as 'Uncle Chop-Chop'. Shifting fluently between frenzy and bathos with the merest glimmer in the eye as punctuation, Bana brings a remarkably deft understatement to his role. While Dominik's attitude towards his fame-hungry subject might remain ambiguous (deriding his fixation with celebrity, yet doing so in the context of a feature biopic), Bana's sublime central performance is no less than a film as inspired as this one deserves.


Andrew Dominik
Michele Bennett
Andrew Dominik
Based on the books by
Mark Brandon Read
Directors of Photography
Geoffrey Hall
Kevin Hayward
Ken Sallows
Production Designer
Paddy Reardon
Mick Harvey
©Australian Film Finance Corporation Limited, Mushroom Pictures Pty Ltd,
Pariah Films Pty Ltd
Production Companies
Australian Film Finance Corporation and Mushroom Pictures present a Pariah Film production
Financed with the assistance of Australian Film Finance Corporation/Mushroom Pictures
Development assistance provided by Film Victoria
Executive Producers
Al Clark
Martin Fabinyi
Michael Gudinski
Line Producer
Yvonne Collins
Production Co-ordinator
Jo Warren
Unit Manager
Andy Pappas
Location Manager
Stephen Brett
2nd Unit Director
Rowan Woods
Assistant Directors
Phil Jones
Jason Faulkner
Emma Jamvold
Sonia Bednar
Joanne McLennan
Greg Apps
Prototype Casting
Rachel Bailey
Script Editors
Billy Stoneking
Peter Neale
Stephen Sewell
Peter Gawler
Additional Dialogue
Jim Hearn
2nd Unit Director
of Photography
Richard Hoskings
Motion Control Camera
Anthony Lucas
Visual Effects
Animal Logic
Special Effects
Graphic Artists
Scott Wiemels
Genevieve McGuckin
Additional Editing
Steve Evans
Art Director
Jeff Thorp
Scenic Artist
Liam Siddell
Costume Designer
Terry Ryan
Wardrobe Supervisor
Keryn Ribbands
Kirsten Veysey
Make-up Artist
Deborah Lester
Tattoo Artist
Justine Halliwell
Prosthetics Make-up
Bob McCarron
Hair Stylist
Deborah Lester
Title Design
Peter Barrett
Optical & Graphic
Paul Cross
Music Supervisor
Jacqui Dennis
Music Editor
Chris Pettifer
Ross Cockle
"Don't Fence Me In" - Frankie Laine; "Black & Blue" - Chain; "Sweet Love" - Renée Geyer; "Bad Boy for Love", "Stuck on You" - Rose Tattoo; "Forever Now" - Cold Chisel; "Release the Bats" - The Birthday Party; "Senile Dementia" - The Saints; "Ever Lovin' Man" - The Loved Ones
Sound Design
Frank Lipson
Sound Recordist
John Schiefelbein
Steve Burgess
Sound Editor
Michael Carden
Dialogue Editor
Glenn Newnham
Gerard Long
Steve Burgess
Stunt Co-ordinator
Zev Eleftheriou
John Fox
Dog Wrangler
Luke's Canine & Animal Actors
Eric Bana
Mark Brandon 'Chopper' Read
Simon Lyndon
Jimmy Loughnan
David Field
Keithy George
Dan Wyllie
Bill Young
Detective Downey
Vince Colosimo
Neville Bartos
Kenny Graham
Keith Read
Kate Beahan
Renee Brack
TV interviewer
Gregory Pitt
Richard Sutherland
prison officers 1 & 2
Gary Waddell
Kevin Darcy
Andrew Dunn
prison officer 3
Caleb Cluff
Detective Creswell
Hilton Henderson
Detective Wyatt
Fred Barker
Governor Beasley
Alan Close
medical officer
Carl Price
Brunswick court judge
Mark Stratford
classification officer
Brian Mannix
Ian James
Johnnie Targan
Paul the bouncer
Robert Rabiah
Sam Houli
Serge Liistro
Sammy the Turk
Pam Western
Tanya's mother
Peter Hardy
Detective Cooney
Sarah Jane King
glamour queen
Skye Wansey
Annalise Emtsis
Marcus Taylor
Jimmy's mate
Ernie Gray
crown prosecutor
David Paterson
Morris Jeffrey
Fletcher Humphreys
Terry Willesee
current affairs show host
Metrodome Distribution Ltd
8,473 feet
94 minutes 9 seconds
Dolby Digital
In Colour
Last Updated: 20 Dec 2011