Screening at Sundance (World Cinema). Dir: Andrew Dominik. Australia. 2000. 94mins.
Writer-director Andrew Dominik spent a year working on commercials and music videos with producer Michele Bennett before the pair set to work on this, a haunting debut feature that depicts Australia's best known serial killer Mark 'Chopper' Read. A stylised macho movie soaked in choreographed fountains of blood, Chopper immediately topped the Australian box office upon release and ended up the fourth highest-grossing home-grown film of last year Down Under. The question now is whether international audiences unfamiliar with Read's back-story will also be able to stomach the wanton R-rated carnage.
An opening caption insists that this riveting movie is not a biography of Read, a hit man self-credited with 19 murders and any amount of off-hand mayhem. Instead, it plays fast and loose with the facts of Chopper's unsavoury adult life, using a barrage of narrative techniques to present a 'portrait' of this banal, unsettling sociopath.
In a maximum security Melbourne prison early in the film, Chopper (Bana) casually slaughters a rival, Mr Big. He then spends the rest of his life inside and outside jail armed to the ravaged teeth, ready to resist violent reprisals, some real, most imagined. 'Now look what you've gone and done,' says Chopper, surveying yet another of his blood-soaked victims. So that he can be moved to prison hospital, Chopper organises for his ears to be sliced off - in extreme close-up, of course.
Inevitably glamorising his brutish hero, Dominik shows little interest in psychological background, which is reduced to two short enigmatic scenes with Chopper's father or courtroom details. How he gets away with murder is, regrettably, unexplained. What Dominik does get, and it was enough to stir the cinema-going public in Australia, where the real Chopper's series of best-selling 'revelations' had already sharpened his cult status, is a magnificent performance from erstwhile TV comedian Bana. Eminently matey one second, a volcanic monster the next, Bana totally inhabits the character, moving De Niro-like from trim young inmate to fat-bellied homicidal hulk, revelling in every comic possibility, frightening his on- and off-screen audiences to bits.
Prod co: Pariah Films. Int'l sales: Beyond Films. Exec prods: Al Clark, Martin Fabinyi. Prod: Michele Bennett. Co-prod: Michael Gudinski. Cinematographers: Geoffrey Hall, Kevin Hayward. Prod des: Patrick Reardon. Ed: Ken Sallows. Music: Mick Harvey. Main cast: Eric Bana, Simon Lyndon, Kate Beahan.