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Reviews » DVD Video Reviews » Chopper: Special Edition
Chopper: Special Edition
Image // R // November 13, 2001
List Price: $24.99 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Gil Jawetz | posted November 29, 2001 | E-mail the Author
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C O N T E N T
V I D E O
A U D I O
E X T R A S
R E P L A Y
A D V I C E
Highly Recommended
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NOTE:
The DVD of Chopper appears to be the R rated version, even though the film was released unrated theatrically. Once it's clear what, if any, changes have been made, I'll add them here.

THE STRAIGHT DOPE:
A different kind of killer, Mark "Chopper" Read (a real-life Australian murderer who gained some celebrity through his media-crazed trials and the books he published about his crimes) changes the formula by keeping (or even amplifying) the rage and violence of other movie anti-heroes while adding a strange sense of empathy. Andrew Dominik's Chopper (2000), which recounts part of his story, uses highly stylized cinematography and editing, technical aspects that deserve attention, but what makes this film stand out from the crowd is the characterization of the title character. Early on Chopper, played by the terrific Eric Bana, stabs a fellow inmate that he doesn't even hate in the throat. Instead of retreating to his corner of the yard, however, Chopper tries to apologize and hand the profusely bleeding guy a cigarette. Similarly, when Chopper's best bud Jimmy (Simon Lyndon) viciously attacks him, Chopper's heart seems more hurt than his body.

Chopper doesn't get mushy, however. The violence is disturbing and bizarre. The acts are sadistically realistic, including ear-slicing, stomach stabbing, point-blank shotgun face blasts, and other assorted niceties. What is strange is Chopper's attitude. The violence he receives practically rolls off his back; He seems invincible. The violence he inflicts, on the other hand, is presented in the dulled affect with which he views it. Whether shooting friend or foe Chopper seems to see murder as something you can take back. Heck, he even takes one guy who winds up on the business end of a gut shot straight to the hospital.

The plot of the film involves Chopper's release from a long prison stint and his inability to adjust to society. Former enemies that don't want to hold a grudge confound him, as do friends that have tried to move away from crime. But at a mere ninety minutes Chopper doesn't try to get into too many stories. The main picture here is of a strange, violent, and ultimately lonely figure who may gain some level of notoriety but doesn't actually get to enter the society that is fascinated with him.

VIDEO:
The anamorphic widescreen video is very nice. The bold use of colors translates in this crisp transfer. The photography uses a lot of different techniques, from over-saturated colors, to speeded up film, to stylized camera angles, and the transfer does a good job of maintaining the look.

AUDIO:
Both Dolby Digital 5.1 and DTS tracks are available, as is a Dolby Digital 2.0 track. The DTS seems a tad louder than the 5.1 but both are dynamic. Much of the film is taken up by dialog, but what could have been indecipherable, given echo-heavy locations (with the audio purposefully left rough emulating the cement boxes of jail cells) but it mostly sounds good. Moments of action and outburst explode with energy and volume. The 2.0 track is ok, but obviously less dynamic. Strangely, no subtitles are included.

EXTRAS:
Chopper has an impressive selection of extras. Foremost is a commentary track from the real Chopper, Mark Read. There are quiet spots as he watches the movie, and he's obviously not used to the process, but when he settles in he's eloquent and funny. Listening to a real murderer talk about his life is eerie. It's impossible to separate out the fact that this guy is relating funny stories from the reality that he has caused so much catastrophic misery. A unique experience (Imagine if Henry Hill did a commentary for a Goodfellas special edition).

A second commentary track is available from director Andrew Dominik. He too leaves long pauses (one terrific track could have probably been created by combining the two) but his comments on fashioning the film from such a disturbing and strange life are valuable.

A series of videos of the real Chopper, shot as research, are included under the title "A Weekend With Chopper". Again, it is invaluable to get to see the real guy. Observing the slick and clever way he presents himself helps underscore the ease with which he took the spotlight. Also, it's incredible to compare the real Chopper to Bana's performance. It's pretty uncanny.

Five deleted scenes (some with commentary and intros) and a trailer round out this terrific set of extras.

FINAL THOUGHTS:
Chopper could easily have fallen into the Quentin Tarantino / Guy Ritchie trap of reveling in unconscionable behavior without any thought given to the consequences. At the same time it needed to portray the man's unique brand of nihilism. The film treads that fine line with considerable skill. While the violence is not for viewers with weak stomachs, the combination of excellent filmmaking skills, a great lead performance, and one of the most curious movie characters in some time will make Chopper look pretty appealing to the rest of the sickos out there.

Email Gil Jawetz at buskerdog@yahoo.com

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