Reviewed by: Chris Monroe
|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|
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.