Prayer Focus
Movie Review

Ned Kelly

MPAA Rating: R for violence and brief nudity

Reviewed by: Chris Monroe

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Moviemaking Quality:

Primary Audience:
Mature Teens and Adults
Action, Western, Drama, Historical, Biography
1 hr. 49 min.
Year of Release:
USA Release:
Featuring: Heath Ledger (The Order, The Four Feathers, A Knight’s Tale, The Patriot)
Orlando Bloom (The Lord of the Rings, Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl, Black Hawk Down)
Rachel Griffiths (The Rookie, Blow)
Geoffrey Rush (Intolerable Cruelty, Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl, The Banger Sisters)
Naomi Watts (21 Grams, The Ring)
Director: Gregor Jordan (Buffalo Soldiers, Two Hands)
Producer: John Michael McDonagh, Eric Fellner, Lynda House
Distributor: Focus Features
Copyright, Focus Features
Copyright, Focus Features
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Relevant Issues
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ORIGIN OF BAD—How did bad things come about? Answer

Did God make the world the way it is now? What kind of world would you create? Answer

Am I good enough to get to Heaven? Answer

Here’s what the distributor says about their film: “In the latter part of the 19th century, Australia is still largely untamed. The former penal colony’s first-generation Irish immigrant population lives in poverty. Having already experienced police brutality and the death of his father, bushranger Ned Kelly is wrongfully imprisoned on the trumped-up charge of stealing a horse. Emerging a few years later, in 1874, Ned is hardened but vows to stay straight. Rejoining his widowed mother and younger siblings, he makes money for his family as a champion bare-knuckle boxer. He also toils as a farmhand on the estate of an English landowner—with whose beatuiful wife Ned shares a mutual attraction. But the British colonial system and its Victorian English enforcers remain prejudiced against Australia’s working people, and the struggling Kelly family is no exception.

When, in 1878, a bullying police officer is rebuffed by Ned’s younger sister Kate and targets the family for harassment, Ned and his mother are unjustly charged with attempted murder. Ned is determined to avenge his family’s name and strike back against his people’s oppressors. While hiding in the bush, he forms a loyal Gang that includes his best friend Joe Byrne. When a chance encounter with the police culminates in three officers killed, the Kelly Gang is forced to go on the run.

They blaze a trail through the Outback, robbing banks to fund themselves and giving police the runaround. The Kelly Gang’s reputation as invincible outlaws grows, as does nationwide support from their immigrant countrymen. To the masses, Ned is a hero. To lawmen, he is the most wanted man in Australia. When the authorities bring in the formidable Superintendent Francis Hare to capture and/or kill the outlaws, Ned strategizes a risky showdown at the Glenrowan Inn. It is this event which will seal his fate—and his legend.”


With controversy about the real Ned Kelly being an Australian hero, it’s hard to believe so based on the movie Ned Kelly. Respectfully, the film adheres to well-known facts about this man’s life, but is a bit heavy-handed in trying to make us sympathize with him. Looking critically at these facts apart from the emotional persuasion the film attempts may create more scorn for him than liking.

Australia 1871, Ned Kelly is confronted by a police officer when found riding a stolen horse. Ned claims he found it and is trying to find it’s owner, but with a history of trouble with the Kelly family, a fight ensues and Ned is imprisoned. Upon his release, tension with the “coppers” continues, and Ned’s mother is put in jail. Outraged, Ned, his brother, Dan (Laurence Kinlan), and two friends, Aaron (Joel Edgerton) and Joe (Orlando Bloom) flee into the bush and begin what is notoriously known as the “Kelly Gang.” Deemed outlaws by the authorities—but heroes to some—this gang crusades against the law, killing cops, robbing banks and endangering innocent people.

After Ned’s release from prison, he reunites with his family at home for an evening meal. There seems to be a genuine love between them all, and perhaps because of the absence of their father, Red Kelly, Ned is even more highly esteemed. As if their tradition, Ned is asked to pray before they eat, which he does. Ironically, during the meal preparations a few moments prior to Ned’s nice blessing of grace, the mother uses Jesus Christ’s name as an expletive. While the dialogue is free from most common swear words, taking the Lord’s name in vain happens a few times throughout this movie.

While working at an estate for Richard Cook one night, Ned has an affair with his wife, Julia (Naomi Watts) in the stable. (There is kissing, but no nudity or anything else.) When Ned needs an alibi for that night, Julia will not help him because of the repercussions she would suffer in admitting to this affair. Their relationship is supposed to be romantic, but it is hard to accept. Although later Ned admits to her that they had no business together in the first place, it seems he only says this because Julia refuses his proposal to run off with him.

The Kelly Gang figures that since they are considered outlaws that they should go ahead and act like it. However, Ned does not consider them to be common thieves. In Robin Hood-like fashion, they are out to bring justice as well, as depicted in the letter Ned writes to heads of state. But the Kelly Gang’s crusades seem more self-serving than anything, since Ned wants revenge for the ills suffered by him and his family. Ned’s friend, Joe, also enjoys carousing with various women during their time traveling around as bandits.

In one scene after a few of the gang’s exploits, Dan asks Ned, “Do you think God will forgive us?” to which Ned replies, “I don’t know.guess we’ll find out someday.” Also hitting on the idea of God’s forgiveness, Ned shoots a police officer during their fight at Stringybark Creek. Ned tells the officer that he wouldn’t have shot him if the officer hadn’t shot at him first. Seeing the man is going to die, Ned goes ahead and kills him saying, “God forgive me.” The point seems to be that Ned did what he had to do in these circumstances, even though he might have been more compassionate.

Looking at another scene, comparatively, one might view Ned Kelly otherwise. After Aaron (one of the Kelly Gang) is arrested, he is propositioned by the police commander, Francis Hare (Geoffrey Rush) to help them locate Ned. After Aaron agrees to help them, Ned and Joe visit Aaron to ask for help in robbing a bank. Aaron, now married with a child on the way, declines the offer. Ned and Joe figure out that Aaron has betrayed them, so they show up later and kill him. Seeing that Ned and his friend were willing to murder someone they were so close to (especially since his wife was pregnant) made me lose the little remaining sympathy I had for them and their cause.

Eventually, watching this movie reminded me of the film “Bonnie and Clyde” with its criminal heroes that end up reaping what they’ve sown. Perhaps there was some good that Ned Kelly and that gang accomplished in opposing injustices, but it was hard to see any good result from their campaign of robbery and violence. And the hopeless suicides of two of the gang members at the end were just too much.

There are many shoot-outs and acts of violence throughout the film. People are shown being shot, beat up and there is a sickening moment where Ned cuts a horse’s throat and drinks its blood because he is so thirsty. And, as mentioned, there isn’t much swearing, but there is one brief instance of nudity.

It seems I would have to agree with the criticism that Ned Kelly got what he deserved. And for that, it was difficult to take anything away from a film that supports him otherwise. There are some nice shots of nature dispersed throughout the movie, and most of the production value is commendable. And although his character was portrayed as a traitor, the best acting performance was by Joel Edgerton.

Viewer CommentsSend your comments
Positive—As a Australian, I know this story of Ned Kelly very well, but as a historian I can say that the movie is some what in inaccurate. It is very anti-British to say the least. I was hoping for an accurate story of this Australian “hero/Robin Hood.” The basic story is of a man (and his whole family) who turned to stealing and murder of those who got in his way. I know the Squaters got what they wanted in terms of the land that they had, still it is no reason to murder and to steal! We should not make heros out of men like Edward Kelly. One last thing, he was not Irish born as many claim he was. His parents were convicts sent to the colony of New South Wales. Sometimes crime runs in the family.
My Ratings: [Good/4]
—Sir Andrew Bass, age 36
Positive—I took a whole class of Australian history which was very fascinating. One of the books we had to read was “The True History of the Kelly Gang.” This was a great book although slightly offensive it really captured what living in Australian during that time period would be like. Because I read this book I have a greater appreciation for this video. Although some may find this movie somewhat gory it was only showing what really went on. I don’t think that they introduced Ned Kelly’s reason for his rage very well. And to be honest I think that the movie could have been even a little more gory since this was a true story and an important part of Australian history, especially to us Aussies.
My Ratings: [Better than Average/3]
—Sarah, age 18
Positive—I love little bits of history, so when parts of history are put into movie form, I usually can’t wait to see the film. I’m not saying all historically-based movies are great, but “Ned Kelly” was really enjoyable. The story is compelling, and I almost found myself wondering if this really happened. It’s a story of corruption and standing up for what you believe. Despite the unhappy ending, the story still warms your heart. I found myself researching the life of Ned Kelly after I watched the movie (I liked it that much). I would say there are a few things to beware of while watching it.

Number 1: There is some swearing in the movie. It’s not severe, however there are a few Lord’s name in vain stuff.

Number 2: There is quite a bit of violence including a man getting shot right in the eye and killed. It also shows a man who got shot by Ned floundering on the ground yelling, “I can’t breathe. I can’t breathe.” Some of this is hard to swallow, but I think that it really adds to the film’s realistic nature.

Number 3: There is a brief scene (about 3 seconds) of female lower frontal nudity. This could have been left out in my opinion, but if you blink at the right time, you’ll miss it. However, none of this really made the movie unbearable to watch. It was an amazing movie. I would watch it again.and again.
My Ratings: [Very Offensive/4½]
—Rae, age 24
Positive—I’m surprised that this film has done so poorly being about a little know piece of history. The basic story is about a decent man that ran afoul of the law and then couldn’t turn back. Despite one nonsexual unnecessary scene with some nudity a PG-13 rating should have been given. They even showed the family praying over dinner. I guess the fact that I was the only viewer in the theater suggests that this is a wait for the DVD film but I generally enjoyed my experience.
My Ratings: [Better than Average/3]
—Bob C., age 40
Positive—It does, to a good degree, show the real Ned Kelly. …the true history of Ned Kelly's Christian faith can be read about in factual data in the book: Australian Bushrangers, the Police, and God by author Al Heffron. As Ned shoots down Sgt. Kennedy, Ned can be seen to quietly say “God forgive me.”
My Ratings: Moral rating: Excellent! / Moviemaking quality: 4
—Al, age 72 (Australia)
Comments from young people
Positive—When I first got “Ned Kelly,” I just got it because Orlando Bloom was in it, and I have a deep respect for his performances because they, while not main-roles (you’ll notice all the roles he’s been playing are not the very main character—example: Legolas in “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy), are still quite memorable. I was not disappointed. Bloom gave a wonderful performance of the roguish yet charming Joe Byrnes, quite a contrast to his last role I saw him in as Will Turner in “Pirates of the Caribbean,” where he was often described as a “eunuch.”

Heath Ledger was also a phenomonon, and Geoffrey Rush, as always, made a great villain (all though he was really just doing his job). Ned Kelly had been about an Australian legend, and it was portrayed quite well. There was a lot of violence, but that was how it was then: shoot or die. there were a few scandalous scenes, but it was essential for you to get a grip on what the characters were like. Who the hero was, who the villain was, and who the sidekick was were all shown very well through the scenes, even the scene where a woman’s chest was shown. It showed how unfair the lawmen were.

Although the Lord’s name was used a few times in vain in the movie, the law was a very twisted and crooked thing, and more often then not, the lawmen were doing what was wrong, in my eyes. Ned Kelly was forced to be a convict, because he would be arrested for something he didn’t even do if he wasn’t, and because of that, an even higher award was placed on his head. So Ned didn’t really have a choice. more »
My Ratings: [Very Offensive/3½]
—Cassie Burton, age 11
Movie Critics
…A rousing, watchable western then, if hardly to die for…
—Nev Pierce, BBC Films
…a competently made film that leaves the viewer with a feeling of what might have been…
—Tiscali UK
…intelligent and well-made… [but] there’s something in Ned Kelly that’s lost in the translation from Australia to America… contains sexual situations, many graphic shootings and lots of blood.
—Mick LaSalle, San Francisco Chronicle
…sickeningly dewy-eyed and banal that it quite fails as the melodrama it is plainly trying to be…
—Peter Calder, The New Zealand Herald
Heath Ledger gives a magnificent performance as an iconic figure…
—Peter Thompson, Sunday Online, Australia
…awash in so much politically correct revisionism that it doesn’t feel remotely believable. Very promising, but a real botched job…
—Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall
…a depressing moviegoing experience, filled with adultery, promiscuity, and profanities… violent and pointless…
—Jerry Langford, Movieguide