There’s still time to nominate local icons for Best of D.C.
In Australia, where he has (allegedly) killed 19 people and (undeniably) written nine popular books, Mark Brandon “Chopper” Read is a legend. His story must be one of those you-had-to-be-there things, though. Writer-director Andrew Dominik’s semifictional account of Chopper’s gory career renders the sociopathic loudmouth merely tiresome. Vigorously played by Aussie comedian Eric Bana, Chopper is the sort of guy who wanders into the home of a coke-dealing acquaintance, asks for some money, and, when he doesn’t get any, casually plugs a bullet into the dealer’s stomach. Chopper can usually get away with such stunts in part because he’s a snitch for the local cops, who calmly disregard the killer’s candid accounts of his crimes, but also because he’s apparently unkillable. In an early scene, when one of Chopper’s prison pals is enlisted to stab the thug repeatedly in the chest, Chopper merely takes off his shirt and admires the new puncture marks on his bleeding, much-tattooed body. Soon after, Chopper commands another fellow inmate to chop off parts of his earlobes, which may be the source of his nickname. (The heavy accents and Dominik’s lackadaisical approach to storytelling make Chopper’s tale almost as mystifying as it is tedious.) Positioned somewhere between docudrama and slapstick, the movie has impeccable geek appeal: Chopper’s hooker girlfriend shoots up in her tongue, and later her lover attacks her for refusing his marriage proposal, in the process headbutting her mother. If this sounds like the sort of brutish off-field melodrama the XFL was dreaming of, be warned that the film doesn’t emulate Hollywood production values. The cinematography is grainy and greenish, and Bad Seed Mick Harvey’s score is more minimal than John Cale’s for Caged Heat, the 1974 Jonathan Demme prison cheapie that looks like The Golden Bowl next to Chopper. —Mark Jenkins