I'd known about this film for quite a long time, but for some reason I'd always been less interested than you might expect. I don't know why. Maybe I'd been confusing it with Romper Stomper? Anyway, it's the story of an Australian criminal called Mark "Chopper" Read, who went around kidnapping, torturing and extorting money from criminals until eventually the police caught up with him, whereupon he began a similarly colourful life in prison. He's claimed to have committed 19 murders, but more recently changed that to 4 (in self-defense).
More surprisingly he's also become a best-selling author and an Australian celebrity. Read himself suggested that Eric Bana play him in this film, after which Bana went to stay with Read for two days to help him prepare for it. Fortunately Read says he likes the results. That's an aspect of the movie I hadn't really connected with while I was watching it, despite the fact that it's reflected in the bookend scenes of Chopper watching himself being interviewed on television. Read isn't just a criminal. He's a celebrity criminal. Theoretically I suppose this doesn't make much difference to the film, but I still think it's interesting. I've found an interview with Eric Bana being asked, "Was it difficult realising a person well known to the Australian public?"
As for the film, it's funny.
It's not intense or scary, although it does have one or two gross scenes. It also doesn't really have a story. It's entertaining enough, but I could have sworn we were only halfway through when it ended. What it does have is an entertaining portrayal of idiot Australian criminals who'll go so far as to start arguing with the police who've wrongly assumed that they're innocent of a crime. I've never seen anything like it. Chopper will stab someone in the face and then not seem to realise that normal people might see a difference between murderous assault and, say, spilling someone's pint. "You all right, Keith?" I was on the floor. "You don't much like me, do you, Keith?" Uh, I'm guessing not. The best bit though is that he's exactly the same when he's on the receiving end of violence, so after being knifed repeatedly himself, his response is to ask, "What's got into you?"
After that, he gives his assailant a hug. This man is hilarious. Theoretically there's nothing much to the film, being basically ninety semi-random minutes of Chopper being violent and stupid, but its central character makes it great.
This film is what made Eric Bana's name in the movie business, by the way. Before this he'd been a comedian in Australian TV, but since then he's done Ridley Scott's Black Hawk Down (2001), Ang Lee's Hulk (2003), Spielberg's Munich (2005) and a whole bunch more. He's a proper film star and it's this role that did it for him. He also won awards for it.
When I first posted this review, I heard the film called (a) one of the great Australian films and (b) for someone else, too random and pointless. I'm not going to argue with either of those comments. Do I have anything more to say? I've been a bit dismissive of the plot, but it's perfectly fine. The incompetent attempted hit is funny. Its only problem is that it doesn't have an ending, but instead just stops at some vaguely appropriate point... okay, fair enough. Apparently the film's based on Read's own books, but also on about five years worth of research from the writer/director and then further input from Eric Bana, so there are places where they contradict Read's version of events. Basically it's a vehicle for a star-making performance in a role so entertaining and strange that all the rest of the film becomes pretty much the framework to showcase him. It's really good, anyway, and I'm glad I watched it at last. I laughed a lot.
"...and other assorted scallywag behaviour."