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Australia 2003
Directed by
Gregor Jordan
110 minutes
Rated MA

Reviewed by
Ruth Williams
3.5 stars

Ned Kelly (2003)

Synopsis: In the late 1880’s in country Victoria, life for the Kelly family is far from ideal, but at least they are together. If only the police would leave them and their fellow Irish countrymen alone. After the eldest son, Ned (Heath Ledger) is thrown in jail, wrongly accused of stealing a horse, it becomes apparent that the police have no intention of letting the Kellys get on with their lives. Ned and his brother are faced with the choice of being victimised by a corrupt police force or fighting for what they believe is their right - to be treated fairly.

The screenplay for Gregor Jordan’s Ned Kelly is based on the fictionalised account of the bushranger’s life, Our Sunshine, by Robert Drewe. It combines both historically accurate details, as well as some fictionalised aspects that were included with the intention of creating a film that would present a broader palette than just guns and men on horseback. This decision to elaborate on what might have happened, or what thoughts might have been going through Kelly’s head is an accepted addition to stories based on real life characters these days. In a post-modern world where truth is seen to be relative, all interpretations are up for grabs.

Ned Kelly is a great-looking film. Cinematography, art direction and costume departments have created a world that allows the audience to believe they have travelled back into the early days of the colonisation of Australia. Attention to detail is paramount, even to the extent of creating that famous armour using steel which weighed eighty pounds, with the actors insisting on wearing it in order to give an authentic performance. And what a performance they gave. Jordan has to be congratulated on his insistence that Heath Ledger perform the part of Kelly. Ledger wholeheartedly convinces us that the killing of police officers and the robbing of banks are forced on him by the injustice of ignorant and power-hungry law enforcers.

The three other members of the gang are equally as convincing in their roles. Orlando Bloom as Ned’s right hand man, Joe Byrne, Laurence Kinlan as the younger brother, Dan, and Philip Barantini as Dan’s friend, Steve Hart. Jim Howes was superb (okay, he’s a friend of mine) as the Glenrowan train doctor.  It has got to be difficult to take a story like this where everyone knows the ending and breath enough life into it for potential audiences to pay to see it. A couple of people to whom I mentioned having seen the film said they weren’t really interested. A little cultural cringe maybe?

I predict that Jordan's film will do better outside of Australia. I hope Aussie audiences will prove me wrong. Personally, I would have preferred more of the "dreamlike, poetic" nature of the book, but that might have turned away those of us who like a bit of action. The only criticism I have is that the momentum of the film seemed to drag midway. As Geoffrey Rush’s character studies a burnt watch found in the cinders of Kelly’s hide-out, the gentleman sitting next to me looked to his thoroughly modern wristwatch for different reasons. All will be forgiven if they make a sequel bringing us up to speed about how on earth Kelly’s supporters managed to get 32,000 people to sign a petition against the hanging, and why it was ignored by the authorities.




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