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Chopper Review

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A biopic of Mark 'Chopper' Read, Australia's answer to Britain's gangland criminal big boy, Reggie Kray. The film traces Chopper's time both behind bars and as he trawls the underbelly of the villain's world, in his personal quest to achieve worldwide notoriety.

★★★★

Six years of controversy precede Andrew Dominik's debut feature. Two thousand two hundred-odd days of "Ban this sick film!" brouhaha and censorship politics. And as to whether the result was worth the wait, the answer comes as a resounding 'yes'.

Misguidedly being heralded along Natural Born Killers lines, this bleak character study in fact owes credit to an altogether more sinister inspiration. For while admittedly adopting Oliver Stone's stance of 'non-judgmentalism', Dominik discards the colour-saturated, stylistic pyrotechnics for a gritty feel far more reflective of John McNaughton's unsparing, unrelenting exercise in abject objectivity, Henry: Portrait Of A Serial Killer.

In each film, events stem from fact not fiction, rendering them even more horrifying. Yet by treating his eponymous, real-life anti-hero with exactly the same documentary technique as McNaughton, Dominik dispenses with comment and opinion - simply sitting back and allowing the camera and its, frankly insane, subject free rein (and rope to hang himself). After all, let's make no mistake, 'Chopper' is mad.

Portrayed by Australian comic Bana - a brave casting decision that pays off admirably - with an understated neurosis bordering on split-personality disorder, the shameless self-publicist - now with no fewer than ten books to his name - goes about his business with brutal efficiency. Indeed, even if he does apologise to his victims in the bloody aftermath (usually too late for them to actually hear it), he justifies himself as being a self-styled vigilante ridding the underworld of its less desirable clientele.

Bana - who underwent a reverse Tom Hanks/Cast Away rapid weight gain before filming the post-prison second half - is a genuine tour de force. But, in the suspense stakes, as his physique balloons, so too does the story's focus. A lean first half - containing the infamous 'ear-slicing' sequence (think 1992's Reservoir Dogs and then some) - is superb, often lingering on the action far too long to be comfortable, whereas a final reel padded with extraneous exposition manages to somewhat dull an otherwise polished package.

A superb first half, slightly let down by a freewheeling finale.

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