I am always skeptical when I see that an anniversary special of a film is being released into cinemas. Sure on DVD or Blu-Ray I am normally one of the first in line to grab one – but the difference is on physical media you normally find the release comes with ‘special’ bonuses – things like director’s commentary etc. Whereas a cinema release is normally a quick cash grab for the studio once more because unless they decide to make it a director’s cut I am watching the same film that I watched twenty years ago, just most likely eating a different choc-top… actually come to think about they haven’t changed much in the last 20 years either.
I approached the 20th-anniversary release of Chopper the same way but I told myself it would still be an enjoyable cinema experience because this wasn’t a film that I have gone back to explore a lot over the years. But I have to admit that my skepticism was completely incorrect because this was one anniversary edition where the filmmaker and studio have created something special for the audience.
Before the film itself starts you get a fascinating behind-the-scenes documentary. Not only do you get to see the cast and director, Andrew Dominik (Killing Them Softly), going through all the motions of putting the film together but you get to see the moment that Dominik and lead actor Eric Bana (Troy) went to stay with the real Mark ‘Chopper’ Reid for a few days to talk about the film and to allow Bana to study the man that he was going to play. Not only is it a fascinating, don’t-look-away-from-the-screen, moment but it also puts to rest the rumour that Reid hated Bana playing the part and didn’t want to have anything to do with the film.
In Chopper Bana plays Reid, a notorious Australian criminal whose exploits became very public after he wrote a series of books chronicling his journey amongst Melbourne’s underworld. The film shows the ups and downs of his prison friendships with Jimmy (Simon Lyndon – Caught Inside) and Bluey (Dan Wyllie – The Hunter). The film also chronicles his prison war with Keithy George (David Field – Two Hands) and shows how is paranoia when released fractures his relationships with friends and partners and leads to another feud with Neville Bartos (Vince Colosimo – The Wog Boy).
Watching Chopper again reminded me what a special film this was. Not only did it bring the story of one of Australia’s most notorious criminals to the big screen but it launched the careers of Australian director Andrew Dominik and it was the launching pad of Eric Bana from funny television comedian to serious cinema leading man. In the lead-up to this film many people thought Bana would never pull off the role, some even wondered whether or not his inclusion in the film meant that it would be a comedy. The question was how could the man who had made the character of Pouiter an Australian comedy icon now take the lead role in a hard-hitting crime thriller.
That question was pretty quickly answered when people watched the film for the first time. Like myself, they were blown away by the performance of a comedian that had been keeping his serious side hidden for years. In a lot of ways, Bana is the highlight of Chopper because despite the stigma around the film Chopper isn’t exactly the cinematic masterpiece that many say it is.
I still find Chopper a great watch but when people say “that is a film that shows what life in Prentridge” was really like I know that simply means that they have never seen a film like Everynight, Everynight that leaves Chopper in its wake. I also don’t think Chopper matches the power of Aussie crime thrillers like Two Hands and Acolytes, but still like I said it is an enjoyable watch but it is a film that always leaves me wanting to know about Reid because it feels like it just skims the surface of what was one very interesting life.
Re-watching Chopper is never a bad idea and if you are a fan of the film then watching the 20th anniversary is a must. The footage of seeing Bana, Dominick and Reid together is priceless, especially given that Reid sadly passed away a few years ago, and it makes the viewer watch the film in a whole new light.