The classic Australian movie has been digitally remastered for a 20th anniversary edition with bonus footage and a limited release in cinemas across Australia.
Chopper has never been shown on streaming services in Australia, adding to the myth and cult following it has attracted since hitting the big screen in 2000.
Featuring a stunning breakout performance by Eric Bana as criminal Mark “Chopper” Read, it is an unflinching account of his turbulent life in and out of prison in Melbourne in the 1970s and 80s.
The film was written and directed by Andrew Dominik, based on Read’s autobiographies, and several lines in the movie have become part of the Australian lexicon including “He couldn’t knock the fluff off a cappuccino.”
Cinema Australia founder Matt Eeles says Chopper tapped into our quirky obsession with criminals.
“Chopper gave audiences permission to root for the bad guy,” Eeles says.
“Like Scorsese’s Goodfellas, or Coppola’s The Godfather, Chopper manipulated audiences into an emotional connection with this evil character by telling it from his point of view only.
“Dominik tricked the audience into thinking Chopper was a likeable fella, just like the real life Chopper tricked people into thinking he was much more dangerous that he actually was.
“Chopper certainly hasn’t dated. If anything, it has gotten better with age.”
The early scenes were shot at Pentridge Prison, where Chopper had been incarcerated, creating a gritty and authentic feel, while later scenes have over-saturated colours, reflecting an older Chopper’s paranoia and mania.
“Although it’s a wild, brutal ride, the film has a simplicity about it that is seldom seen nowadays in Australian cinema,” Eeles notes.
The film launched the Hollywood career of Bana and Dominik – Chopper was his directorial debut – and he went on to direct Brad Pitt in The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford and Killing Them Softly.
Dominik said he had so many agents calling him in Hollywood after Chopper’s success he had to change hotels, eventually signing with an agent who called every single hotel in Los Angeles to track him down.
Dominik’s Hollywood career stalled a bit in the mid 2010s, but he re-emerged in recent years, directing two episodes of the critically acclaimed Mindhunter on Netflix, and is now putting the finishing touches to Blonde, a film about Marilyn Monroe.
Eeles says the director still thinks a lot about Chopper Read, who died of liver cancer in 2013.
“Despite Chopper’s crimes and his claims of killing 19 people, Dominik genuinely cared for the guy,” Eeles says.
“He spent seven years of his life writing about this man. Following the film, Dominik and Chopper kept in touch, and according to Dominik, Chopper was very encouraging of him moving to Hollywood to make movies.
“Dominik told me that he still thinks about Chopper, the man, all the time.”
Before Chopper, Bana had never been a leading man and was known for his comedy turns in the sketch show Full Frontal and films like The Castle, making his transformation into Chopper even more remarkable.
At the time, industry insiders were sniggering when they heard Bana had been cast as the hardened criminal.
Twenty years on, Eeles says it’s still Bana’s best performance and he’s having the last laugh.
“Every time I watch this film I’m totally engrossed in Bana’s performance,” Eeles says.
“In fact, Bana’s performance is so good that even Mark Read’s father thought he was watching his son act in the movie.
“Despite going on to work with Brad Pitt and Steven Spielberg, Bana has never again reached the height of this performance since. He’s that good in it.”
Chopper (20th Anniversary) is showing at Luna Leederville until Wednesday (September 1).
by STEPHEN POLLOCK