Born Criminals

The self-mythologizing author of nine autobiographical bestsellers (one titled How to Shoot Friends and Influence People), Chopper is trapped in the circle of his personality. The portrait of this thuggish celebrity promises to be gleeful, and it is—in a particularly gore-drenched way. A flashback to 1978 shows the newly incarcerated Chopper making his reputation in a Melbourne maximum-security prison by razzing some old-timer, before snapping and stabbing the guy to death. This is a movie where bleeding can be a sound effect, but often it's obscured by the burble of Chopper's constant chatter.

Later, Chopper's dismayed and irresolute mates are recruited to perform a Julius Caesar and stick it to their pal. Blood flows, but this boy is apparently unkillable. He takes eight cuts and remains on his feet, so slimy with gore that the weaker of his two assailants begins to heave. Soon boasting stitches to match his tattoos, the pain-impervious Chopper gets himself transferred to a hospital ward by browbeating another inmate into sawing off his ears. A star is born.

This opening, which occasioned audible heavy-breathing excitement at the screening I attended, is prologue to the comedy that ensues once the monstrous Chopper returns to society. No one seems particularly pleased to see him. "You weren't thinking of me when you did that," his junkie hooker sweetheart, Tanya, remarks of his remodeled ears, while his obnoxious old dad goads him into wreaking vengeance on some former associates. To that end, Chopper visits the sleazy disco known as Bojangles and—in a long, well-orchestrated scene of strobe-lit close-ups—proceeds to shoot up the place. The loutish Chopper is not a man to tolerate frustration. He proposes marriage to Tanya but, stung by her refusal (she says she'd prefer to keep whoring), invades her home, punches her out, and head-butts her interfering mother.

No exit: Maryam Parvin Almani (left) and Nargess Mamizadeh in The Circle
photo: Winstar
No exit: Maryam Parvin Almani (left) and Nargess Mamizadeh in The Circle


The Circle
Directed by Jafar Panahi
Written by Kambozia Partovia
Opens April 13

Written and directed by Andrew Dominik, from the book Chopper:From the Inside, by Mark Brandon Read
First Look
Universal Focus
Film Forum
April 11 through April 24

A movie of prolonged interactions, Chopper is as visually strident as its protagonist is garrulous. A former director of commercials and music videos, Dominik periodically gooses the action with bits of subjective pixillation or wildly theatrical lighting, but his filmmaking is more impressive for its vivid claustrophobia. The colors are leached; the action is largely confined to interiors with the bilious illumination of a city morgue. Virtually the only exterior is the Bojangles parking lot, where for reasons not immediately apparent, Chopper is embroiled with a hapless petty criminal, whom he shoots point-blank in the head. It's typical of the movie's comic rhythms that this death scene features a very long totter, then Chopper's immediate contrition.

With his metal teeth and deformed satyr-like ears, Chopper is a spectacular lowlife clown—a mix of oafish savoir faire and unpredictable violence—swinging his dick along with his mood. Bana, who appears in nearly every shot, talking all the while, gives a remarkably mercurial performance. Holding forth for TV cameras, he brags that he wrote a bestseller even though he "can't bloody spell." Maybe not, but the movie certainly casts one.

This in from our Department of Correction: Two weeks ago, I wrote that Faat-Kine was Ousmane Sembène's first in the 25 years since Xala with a contemporary setting—forgetting that Sembène's 1993 Guelwaar, at Film Forum this week, also takes place in present-day Senegal.

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