It’s hard to remember that the chisel-jawed Eric Bana, a man seemingly popped from the Hollywood movie star mould, actually got his start working in TV sketch show Full Frontal. If his graduation to the big screen as Con in 1997’s seminal Aussie comedy The Castle felt like a natural progression, then it was his show-stopping turn as hardened crim Mark Brandon Read – aka Chopper in the film of the same name – that really made the world sit up and take notice.
Those smouldering good looks vanished, as Bana totally disappeared into the role of the late, mad, bad Chopper, a convicted murderer and former inmate of Melbourne’s infamous gaol Pentridge. Ironically enough, while that hulking bluestone prison is now decommissioned, these days it’s home to a rather swish cinema that recently hosted the premiere of Bana movie The Dry.
Now you can immerse yourself in this career-defining turn all over again, as Chopper returns to Australian cinemas on a 20th anniversary tour for a two-week run from August 26 (lockdowns allowing). Director Andrew Dominik’s masterpiece has literally never landed on a streaming service, and Bana’s glowering, towering performance absolutely deserves the big screen treatment. As heinous as Uncle Chop Chop’s brutal violence was, inflicted on so many – some more deserving than others – his shadow looms large in the Australian psyche as something of a charismatic rogue, not entirely unlike the national obsession with Ned Kelly.
Bana just got it. As sometime At the Movies host David Stratton put it, reviewing the film in Variety magazine back in 2000: “Bana is extraordinary in the role, seamlessly combining the icy intensity and off-the-wall humour of the character. He put on weight for the later scenes, and plays the heavily tattooed and scarred gunman with shocking realism and, at the same time, a twinkle in his eye.”
You'll be able to witness that twinkle and the film's devastatingly funny one-liners when it lights up Australian cinema screens once more. “It’s amazing to see the film being presented to cinemas again after 20 years,” Bana says. “There is now a whole generation of fans of the film who would never have had the chance to see it on the big screen. As a cinephile, I am excited by this very rare opportunity. The passage of time has been kind to the film, and it makes the risks taken by all involved worthwhile.”