Mark “Chopper” Read. You might not know who that is but to say that his life was “interesting” is akin to suggesting that the second world war was “a little bit of a tiff”. During his life he dabbled in such diverse activities as kidnapping, torture, arson, some more kidnapping, the occasional murder, GBH, speaking out against domestic abuse, and even a career as an author. Chopper was, in fact, such an interesting character that in the year 2000 they even released a film about him, starring Eric Bana as the titular Chopper, which is now the recipient of a shiny new Blu-ray release from the fine folks over at Second Sight.
We open in 1978, when Chopper is an inmate at Pentridge Prison where he’s involved in a rivalry with another set of inmates from the Painters and Dockers union. What follows is a rather intense half hour or so of stabbings, revenge stabbings, and ears getting cut off that sets the tone for all that follows. The film covers what might be described as the “highlights” of Chopper’s life, starting with Pentridge Prison, his shooting of Neville Bartos, and the incident involving Sammy the Turk that eventually ends him back in prison where the film ends.
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Chopper is a mercurial character, affable and charming one moment, and brutally violent the next. As he describes himself he’s just “a normal bloke who likes a bit of torture”. Eric Bana disappears into the role, gaining more than 30lbs of weight to depict the man, as well as spending time studying his speech patterns and mannerisms, and visiting Chopper on his farm in Tasmania to get to know him in person. His impersonation of Chopper’s accent is a masterclass, as can be heard in the interviews with the man himself. It’s uncanny how well Bana captures him.
It’s difficult to watch Chopper without comparisons being drawn to another film – Nicolas Winding Refn’s masterpiece Bronson, starring Tom Hardy in his breakout role as the titular Michael Peterson aka Charles Bronson. Both films cover real-life villains who spent more time behind bars than on the outside. Both were charming, brutal and, one could argue, not entirely sane. Bronson, though, lingers more on the insanity of Bronson’s life and his actions. In some ways we never really get to know Bronson as a person. He’s a violent and fascinating enigma while the depiction of Chopper lays bare more of the man behind the cult figure, aided here by the copious special features which give audiences a real feel for who Mark Read was.
Second Sight never disappoint, and Chopper continues their long line of stellar releases. The new 2K restoration is a delight for the senses, accentuating the deliberate choices made in the colour grading, with all the prison scenes starkly blue and minimalistic while everything in the outside world is over-saturated and over-lit to achieve an atmosphere director Andrew Dominik described as “visual overload”.
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The special features delve deep into the making of the movie and the story of the man. There are three different audio commentaries on offer, each offering their own unique take on the film. Director Andrew Dominik does one, where he talks in a quite matter of fact kind of way about the making of the film, while author/critics Alexandra Heller-Nicholas and Josh Nelson’s commentary track, by comparison, is mainly the pair gushing about the film like the fans they are. The final commentary track is the most interesting. It’s Chopper himself, commenting over the movie of his life, pointing out where things were changed and when things are spot on to what actually happened, like the infamous ear scene. I’ve never encountered a track quite like it and it’s an oddly intimate affair that’s well worth a listen.
There are three new interviews for this release, ‘Stand-up Comedy and Violence’ with the director, ‘Not Your Typical Film Composer’ with the film’s composer Mick Harvey, and ‘A Tale of Two Halves’, which is an interview with the film’s editor, Ken Sallows. There’s also a home movie style featurette titled ‘Weekend With Chopper’ where the filmmakers went out to Chopper’s farm and spent time with him. Wrapping things up there’s ‘Chopper: Behind the Scenes’ which is a montage showing how various scenes were set up and staged, and finally there’s a selection of deleted scenes with commentary from the director.
Available in both standard and limited editions, the limited release also includes a nice little slipcase with the awesome new cover art by Nick Charge, the usual set of art cards, and a new book with essays from Thomas Caldwell, Sally Christie, Cerise Howard and Joanna McIntyre.
Chopper is a fantastic movie about a fascinating character, and while arguments can be made against films like this that glorify individuals who have made a name for themselves by being criminals, it’s still well worth a viewing, and Second Sight have put together a fantastic release of this Aussie cult classic.
Chopper is out now on Blu-Ray from Second Sight Films.