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Living Contradiction Sells on the Big Screen

Living Contradiction Sells on the Big Screen

What: Chopper

'I'M just a normal bloke,' says Mark Brandon 'Chopper' Read, to a television reporter interviewing him in the exercise yard at Pentridge Prison.

He adds: 'A normal bloke who likes a bit of torture,' followed by that manic laughter.

Welcome to the humour of Chopper Read, a place where you'll find yourself laughing the way you laugh at the Coyote and Roadrunner, but this time it is real people copping an Acme anvil on the noggin.

You'll laugh, but it's more of a nervous, incredulous reaction, as Chopper digs himself further and further into trouble.

Chopper is hard going because ERIC BANA's performance, and ANDREW DOMINIK's direction, presents us with a likeable Chopper Read, in order for us to feel the pain of his inability to do the right thing.

Bana turns in a thoroughly convincing performance as the menacing, charming, eloquent, yet emotionally-unhinged Chopper Read.

First-time writer and director Dominik has created a confronting piece of cinema, pulling few punches as Chopper ruthlessly unloads shotguns into people, stabs a man to death with his bare hands and beats his girlfriend (and her mother) mercilessly.

But Dominik presents another side to Read, a side that he believes Read had intended to reveal in his books. And that side of Chopper is one that is capable of remorse.

Overiding all other ideas in this film is the one that Chopper, using his subsequent notoriety and status as a best-selling author, may have pursued his writing as an avenue of expressing regret to his victims.

The idea is presented in scenes after Read had committed his most violent acts.

Director Dominik has Bana showing Read in tears attempting to offer his dying victims a cigarette, a lift to the hospital, assurances that they would not bleed to death, apologies 10 years after the event for a bullet to the knee cap.

After this Bana reverts to the bragging, cool, calm and collected Read. But the shutters have come up on the world of Read who is presented as a man who was essentially paranoid about how others felt about him.

It is the paranoia that led to Read's self-destructive tendencies. He felt that people were staring at him; wanted to kill him; didn't love him; weren't loyal to him.

Unfortunately in Read's world retribution and cruelty are the only tools he was equipped with emotionally to deflect his own feelings of inadequacy.

Other tools Read had to compensate were his gift of the gab. Given an audience, he could hold it spellbound. Sadly his mouth could construct an argument quicker than his mind could furnish it with logic or reason.

When telling stories this often led to gruesome accounts of his criminal activities, with a neatly dove-tailing punch line at the end, a defence mechanism he constructed so you wouldn't think him vicious.

Chopper is darkly humorous, but then so is the man who wrote the books - books that were based on his own life which was so full of contradictions.

The contradictions are what makes Chopper such compelling viewing.

With genuine sincerity Read characterises himself to a television interviewer as a 'normal bloke. . . just a bit down on his luck', and Dominik's interpretation is believable.

The subject is even more compelling because he represents the battler who - like NED KELLY - went down fighting. Chopper was a Ned Kelly for the TV generation.

The film doesn't condone the violence, but presents it in a way that is uncomfortable for the audience, because you clearly are meant to take Chopper into your heart.

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