(2003) dir. Gregor Jordan
During my recent trip to Australia, I picked up Peter Carey’s novel, The True History of the Kelly Gang, knowing little about the legend of Ned Kelly, other than recalling this film, which came and went several years ago. The book was brilliant and engaging, and furthered with some other interests from my travels and further reading, I decided to queue up some Australian films and thusly put Ned Kelly at the top.
Ned Kelly, for those who don’t know, was an outlaw, a bushranger as they were called, from a family of poor Irish immigrants, maligned by the government and police, and treated quite harshly. Kelly, depending on the version of the story, I guess, became a bushranger more out of necessity and rebellion against the English-run government that treated the poor so roughly. He became a bit of a “Robin Hood”, stealing from banks and sharing the money with families that he identified with. He shot and killed 3 policemen and was ultimately captured and hung at the age of 25. He’s as popular a figure in Australian lore and identity as there is. And those of you who read my writing with any following, will know that I’ve been exploring these tropes of outlaw legends and their portrayal in cinema. It’s actually quite a shame that Australian director Andrew Dominik wasn’t at the helm of this as he has a particular interest in the subject matter, in his 2001 film Chopper focusing on contemporary criminal Mark Brandon Read and then later in the amazing The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (2007).
This film, though, is moderately “paint by numbers”. Adapted from a different novel about Ned Kelly by Robert Drewe, the film focuses on the later life of Kelly and he is portrayed by the late Heath Ledger. Throw in Orlando Bloom, Naomi Watts, and Geoffrey Rush, the latter of whom actually seems to always bring something to every movie he’s in, and you’ve got this engaging drama about the bushranger, who is seen with highly sympathetic eyes. Facts and fictions, woven together, it’s a decent film, hardly a great film, but not bad either.
There was a good documentary about the legend of Ned Kelly on the disc, which gave some more factual background and showed clips of numerous films about the legend, his weird metal armor he made to protect himself, and his popularity in the media and culture. Really, outside of Australia, how well is he known? Probably, that was the commercial downfall of the film.
This is the first of probably a number of Australian films that I will see in the coming months, though perhaps the only one about Ned Kelly. One version that was made in 1970 by director Tony Richardson starred a young Mick Jagger, and the clips looked as bad as you might expect.