Chopper isn't just a great movie - as David Poland noted on Twitter it's the movie whose success gave us the genius of Andrew Dominik and changed Eric Bana from an Australian comedian to a brooding international leading man. But it's also a great movie, violent and smart, with an extraordinary central performance.
Chopper is based on a real man, Mark "Chopper" Read, who has died at age 58. The real Read spent more than half his life in prison and was implicated in at least 19 murders, although he recently told the New York Times that he only killed "Probably about four or seven, depending on how you look at it." Read's other crimes included armed robbery, kidnapping and, perhaps most famously, torture. A prolific criminal, Read wasn't necessarily a very good one - he got caught for just about every crime he committed.
While in prison Read began writing his memoirs, and his books have become huge sellers. He personally chose Bana, then a comedian, to play him in the movie version of his life. After the success of the film and his books, Australia changed its laws so that Read could no longer profit from writing about his crimes. He ended up writing a bizarre children's book called Hooky The Cripple: The Grim Tale Of A Hunchback Who Triumphs, as well as appearing in commercials and movies and selling paintings.
Writing in prison changed Read's life, but it wasn't the only thing he took out of the slammer. Read contracted hepatitis while in prison and he refused a liver transplant, saying he didn't deserve one. His eventual cause of death was liver cancer, almost certainly caused by his hepatitis.
Read was a perfect example of the modern outlaw, a man whose actions were despicable but who carried with him a certain charisma and charm that made us want to look past the minor things, like torturing other humans with blowtorches. He was a truly gifted raconteur, and in a different reality he might have been able to become famous without killing a single person. That wouldn't have made for quite the same movie, though.