Chopper explores the charismatic side of the brutal criminal, the strange fascination that many (especially filmgoers) feel for the interesting bad-guy. So often, the exaggerated, over-the-top character of criminals provide the impetus for dramatic tales. In this film, the tale is twisted, as the real life Mark “Chopper” Read’s tale is heightened and exaggerated to literary form by himself.

The script for the film is taught, telling the story quickly and with fresh and funny dialogue. The horror of his character comes out in his words – after severely punching his girlfriend in the face, itself an obviously visceral and disturbing image, the second level horror kicks in when he screams at her “Look what you’ve gone and done!” He is yelling both at himself and his victim, blaming both for the sordid interaction of violence that has ensued. This narrative dexterity, intelligently combining violence and introspection, is indeed rare.

The film plays like a weird mockumentary, a Man Bites Dog for the prison population. In the end it becomes all the more sinister because of the biographical foundation for the film. Chopper is both brutal and violent, but not in a glorified sort of way. Much of the explicit brutality is either kept slightly off screen, say, half-sheltered behind a wall, or shown with excruciating clarity and openness, forcing you to confront the violence.

It becomes quite evident why such a story would be so compelling for the Australian market – much like Charles Manson, there is a twisted charisma about the man. While Manson’s strangeness hearkens back to 60s counterculture, Chopper is a modern criminal bad guy, forgiven in part for only killing other bad guys, presenting himself in a mannered way outwardly. His fleeting moments of brutal, criminal rage give way to a surreal, Christ-like vision of forgiveness. This paradox, that brutality is mixed with a child-like sensitivity, is what makes Chopper‘s tale so captivating.