No, it’s not about motorcycles. This film explores a couple periods in the life of Mark “Chopper” Read, an Australian folk hero who is, uh, just not right in the head. Unknown in the states, Read (played by Eric Bana) is a sometime criminal and full-time mental case and bullshit artist. He became famous down under through his often colorful and violent antics in and out of prison and through his self-penned best-selling books that chronicle his weird life.
Based on Read’s own writings, “Chopper” depicts two periods in the man’s life. The first is toward the beginning of a 10-year prison stint in the 1970s where he caused so much trouble that even his best friend tries to kill him. Believe me, he finds a novel way to save himself. The second period begins upon his release in the 1980’s as Read attempts to adjust back into “normal” life. It won’t be easy for him, or anyone else unlucky enough to get within a 10-yard radius.
The big deal here is that, again, Read just isn’t right in the head. He tells so many lies and tall stories that even he has a hard time understanding the truth. This is not to say that he isn’t legitimately dangerous. He has some quite lethal mood swings, but they change so often that he might suddenly shoot a guy, then immediately ask, “Are you okay?” Then he might drive the guy to the hospital. Others might see through all his big talk, but they still won’t mess with him as he is violently unpredictable.
As portrayed by Eric Bana, Read’s also strangely charming. I suspect the real man is like this as well. Even the prison guards seem to enjoy his company as he’s mostly a threat only to other criminals. He’s sort of a man out of time, the kind of guy who would have had a huge legend had he lived in America’s old West. Unfortunately, he was born in Australia a century too late and has a habit of leaving big messes wherever he goes.
The big problem here is that while Read is probably a household name in Australia, but American viewers will have to spend some time figuring out who exactly this character is. At the start of the film he’s already notorious, and audiences in this hemisphere won’t immediately comprehend why. They’ll figure it out soon enough, though. “Chopper” is a pretty enjoyable way to blow a couple of hours, and based on this, I probably wouldn’t mind spending an afternoon having beers with the real Read himself. However, I’d keep on eye on the exits, just to be on the safe side.