Australian thug and bestselling author Mark ‘Chopper’ Read has found notoriety in his homeland and some international fame thanks to the screen adaptation of his life story, in which he was played by the excellent Eric Bana. Ten years after Chopper was released we get Fatbelly, a documentary starring the real Read in what promises to be a revealing expose of his life and philosophy. What results is a series of rambling anecdotes interspersed with some paltry archive footage and poorly conceived dramatisations which glorify his tales and fix firmly the idolising view of the filmmaker. Thankfully the whole project remains buoyant because of Read’s magnetic personality and seemingly effortless mastery of a particular colloquial language. His character is difficult to empathise with, but the allure of abhorrence becomes the source of his power.
Read is a man who has built his personality around appearances, and his body that is etched with amateur prison tattoos is as much for show as his penchant for cigars, big sunglasses and a handlebar moustache. He is the physical embodiment of Yosemite Sam, bristling with energy that erupts as humour or fury, and it is unsurprising that one venue in which he is interviewed is the barber shop where his plumage is maintained. What makes Read likable is his total awareness of his superficiality and hunger for fame, along with his brutal honesty which makes it difficult to question the veracity of his graphically detailed, belief-defying stories.
Read uses Fatbelly to explain his personal logic which has allowed him to allegedly harm and kill many criminals over course of his career. He frequently turns to the words of his father, who was a hard man by all accounts. He passed on the ideology which singles out anyone with a criminal record as a target for violence and harassment, and Read seems to have lived his life, or certainly remembered a vast majority of it, as framed by this particular ethos. Read believes in a modified form of morality that almost paints him like The Punisher, and as that’s the second comparison between him and a cartoon character I’ve made in this review, you can appreciate the impact of his exaggerated showmanship.
Fatbelly is spoilt by the clumsy manner in which it has been constructed, which is no fault of Read’s. The interviewer frequently asks inane questions, to which Read rightly responds with animosity, and some unnecessary set pieces which put Read in contact with a blowtorch and bolt cutters make it feel like watching outtakes from a low budget rap video. If you’ve read any of Read’s books or seen Chopper then Fatbelly offers little more other than some revised criminal folklore and a closer look at the man behind these nasty narratives. However, there is a depth to this man that is intriguing in its way, and seeing him enter old age and talk about his growing family does trace out a more complex picture, even if little of his underlying substance is actually revealed. But as Read himself said: “Even Beethoven had his critics. See if you can name three of them.”
Fatbelly: Chopper…Unchopped is out on DVD August 9th.