Ned Kelly Reviews
Ledger's portrayal of the Jesse James-esque Kelly is quite brilliant as he and his gang become the invincible "outlaws" of the Outback. Ned Kelly becomes a legend/hero, and still is to this day for his valor, and keen insight into justice so often ignored by so called authority figures.
Like I said, Ned Kelly is a decent movie. It's just not compelling enough to merit multiple viewings, or really even first viewings unless you're in the mood for a depiction of the Australian outlaw.
One every week or two, I sort my Netflix queue by average rating and grab something from the bottom five. I usually get a good time out of it-if the entire Netflix community hates it, then by golly, there must be something good about it! I tried a variation on the theme last week-since my queue had exactly 330 movies in it, I went to movie #165, right smack in the middle. That turned out to be Gregor Jordan's 2003 biopic Ned Kelly, one of the Heath Ledger movies I can imagine myself ever sitting through (as much as I love Heath Ledger, sorry, A Knight's Tale will never pass these eyes) that I'd never seen, so I hit play and settled in for what Netflix's myriad users promised me was going to be a perfectly average time. I think the movie is a touch better than average, but most of its problems are overlookable.
If you're unfamiliar with Australian history (and I will be the first to admit I am nowhere near familiar enough with it to tell you how much of this Jordan got right and how much he made up out of whole cloth), Ned Kelly (Ledger) was a nineteenth-century outlaw/folk hero, which took some doing given Australia's beginnings as a prison colony; how bad do you have to be to get branded an outlaw in the Manhattan of Escape from New York? As the story opens, we see Kelly getting rousted by the law for stealing a horse. (We don't know if he did or not-Kelly's acquisition of said horse, which he claims he found roaming free, takes place the day before the opening sequence. I may be over-reading, but I believe Jordan's intention was for us to believe Kelly is telling the truth here.) Things escalate from there through the first roughly half-hour of the film, culminating in one of Ned's brothers getting into a firefight with the law, which is then blamed on Ned (who wasn't even in the house at the time). Ned's mother is thrown in prison as a way to get Ned to turn himself in; instead, Ned, his brother Dan (Boy Eats Girl's Laurence Kinlan), and their respective best friends Joseph Byrne (Lord of the Rings franchise mainstay Orlando Bloom) and Steve Hart (The Escapist's Philip Barantini), form an outlaw band, base themselves in the wilderness, and start robbing banks. This turns out to be a relatively easy way of making money in rural Australia, and before long, Ned Kelly is sending goading letters to the cops-in one memorable scene from the movie, partially using verbiage supplied him by the "hostages" the Kelly Gang have taken in the bank, all of whom are enthusiastic supporters by the time they leave-and transforming from "armed and dangerous" to "can I have your autograph?". However, the law is unamused, and calls in Francis Hare (Quills' Geoffrey Rush), notorious for his strong-arm tactics with lawbreakers.
It's a fun little thing, though it feels like, given that it's a docudrama, it should have more weight behind it. It also feels like a good deal got left on the cutting-room floor (Naomi Watts' character, who exists in order to provide a romantic subplot, seems like she got a lot more screen time in earlier cuts of the movie), but that could simply be because Jordan is so obsessed with Heath Ledger. Which is understandable; Heath Ledger never encountered a camera that didn't fall in love with him, though that tendency does give folks who end up in movies with him short shrift. It almost feels like the camera is snubbing Bloom in a couple of scenes here. I found that, well, kind of amusing actually. Your mileage will probably vary. Ned Kelly is a good movie, but it feels like it could have been a great one. ***
I love the story of Ned Kelly. Before watching this movie I read up on some of the history, but seeing it played out like this was the best way I can think of to learn the story.
The only thing that went wrong was the screenplay. It got boring and dragged sometimes but it was redeemed by the good acting. If your a Ledger fan I think you should watch it but otherwise its up to you.
The Wikipedia article about Ned Kelly, herein played by Heath Ledger, makes for some interesting reading. The movie mostly correlates to Kelly's own version of events--mostly--but of course, there's no reason to assume that his was the most accurate telling. The Wikipedia article mostly cites period sources--and reads like one. It may not quite be in line with their usual standards, but you have to love any article which informs you that "After this episode the outlaws retired to sleep." In fact, I half-believe that most of the article is in fact plagiarized from old articles, because the language is so stilted. There are also a few places where there are unnecessary italics which would be fully in keeping with an article written more than a hundred years ago. I suspect the whole thing has amused more than one Australian grade school teacher who read it when a student plagiarized Wikipedia for their report.
The Kelly family lived in Victoria in those long-ago days, though why the late Red Kelly was transported, no one seems entirely sure. Consensus seems to be that he stole a couple of pigs. Well, Ireland in those days was no fun. And being poor and Irish in Victoria of the 1870s wasn't much fun, either. (Descriptions of what happened will, in this paragraph, be strictly what happened in the movie.) While his eldest son, Ned, may have been a bit of a troublemaker, the police also seem to have had it in for him. He got three years' hard labour for stealing a horse, which he merely caught for a man who claimed to own it. He didn't--but "Wild" Wright (Russell Dykstra) served eighteen months for the theft, certainly not fair. The Kellys also had problems with various of the local policemen, culminating in a fight at the Kelly house. Mrs. Kelly (Kris McQuade) is arrested for attempted murder, which causes Ned to go on a rampage because the police will not let him trade himself for his mother's freedom.
The whole thing is a bit Bonnie-and-Clyde, in the sense that Bonnie and Clyde were vicious thugs who have been romanticized ever since their crime spree. I don't dispute that, from just glancing over the Wikipedia page, it seems as though Ned Kelly got a raw deal from the Victoria police. There are several occasions described where he was arrested simply because he'd been arrested before, or where someone got a lighter sentence for a worse crime, which all makes it look as though someone there had it in for him. Though probably not then-premier Graham Berry (Charles "Bud" Tingwell)--yes, really, and the man had some epic facial hair. Geoffrey Rush also plays Superintendent Francis Hare as a man doing a job, not like various of the other police characters who want the glory of bringing in the notorious outlaw band. However, the portrayal of Ned Kelly as a man driven to the edge to protect his family doesn't hold up to scrutiny.
He is, of course, a national folk hero in Australia, which is the other way he compares to Bonnie and Clyde, Billy the Kid, or what have you. All four have been portrayed as fighting against the banks and the evil forces of government to protect the Little Guy, and in no case is it really true. This movie has a touching scene wherein Ned and Joseph Byrne (Orlando Bloom) burn up a bunch of mortgage papers so that the bank won't know who owes them how much. This is, of course, completely ridiculous on at least two levels. Yes, Ned did refuse to steal a man's watch at one of the burglaries--but he was also the one to initially ask for it, and the only reason he didn't take it was that the victim's mother had given it to him. The movie cobbles together a romance for Ned with Julia Cook (Naomi Watts), who as far as I can tell isn't even a historical figure. She is there to represent the English landowners--ironically enough, mostly opposed in the Victorian government by Premiere Berry.
Oh, it's a pretty enough movie, and that's just its leads. Geoffrey Rush is in it, though only just barely. The Australian countryside gets considerably more air time and is scenic as always. (And this isn't the desperate dry heat of much of the continent; there's actually water here.) The final shootout is one of the most ludicrous ever committed to film; I would really like someone to explain what the lion is doing there. But the movie spends so much time romanticizing its main character that it doesn't really [i]do[/i] anything with him, much less his costars. About the only notable thing they do with Orlando Bloom's character is make him speak Chinese. Impressive enough, to be sure, but not enough to sustain interest. I now watch movies like this with a mild sense of regret, because I learned what Heath Ledger was capable of, and it was more than this. The story of Ned Kelly deserves a better treatment than this, too; it's a shame the two didn't match up, because the Australian film industry lost its chance there.