The first title screen of this biopic about the notorious Australian criminal Mark "Chopper" Read states: "This is not a biography." It's a cheeky foreshadowing of the film's attitude towards its titular character, a real-life thug who may or may not have killed many people, definitely went to jail a few times, wrote an entertaining if barely truthful autobiography which became a best-seller, and fell in love with the limelight.
Australian stand-up comedian Eric Bana makes his dramatic debut in the lead role, and he is excellent: funny, scary, and strange, his Chopper is the sort of person who will shoot someone and then ask, with genuine concern, "Are you all right?"
Although the film is stylishly directed and shot, with inventive use of sped-up film and filters that turn many scenes nearly monochromatic, Dominik betrays his background as a music video director helming his first feature in that he doesn't have a good sense of pacing. Where there should be suspense, or drama, or a feeling of "what happens next", there are only scattered vignettes of Chopper's wild life. I also felt that I was missing out on a lot of details - the film jumps forward across several years a couple of times, without bothering to explain what happened in the interim.
I'm sure Dominik isn't interested in analyzing his subject's motivations or background, and I give him credit for that. But it's also clear that this is an Australian film primarily aimed at Australian audiences already familiar with the story (or stories) behind Mr. Read; as an American who had never heard of him before, I wanted to know a little more.
At least Dominik doesn't let his style get in the way of Bana's performance: Chopper is definitely a one-man show, and Bana plays it to the hilt. His watchable on-screen presence - with the creepiest giggle I've heard in years - alone makes for worthwhile viewing. However, I must warn the squeamish that there are some extremely bloody scenes in this movie.