Review: “Ned Kelly”

After much fanfare and hype, the latest film incarnation of the famed Aussie bush ranger legend hits the big screen and the result is somewhat of an average affair. On the one hand the production values, look of the film and admittedly the impressive cast all deliver the goods as expected.

On the other, Gregor Jordan (who pulled off the quirky “Two Hands” with great effect) disappoints with some ham-handed direction, woeful editing and above all a tacky script which reeks with all the emptiness of a typical failed Hollywood action blockbuster. If your looking to find out the true story of the Kelly gang then this is NOT the film to look at. A film like “The Cat’s Meow” got the basics of the shooting incident aboard W.R. Hearst’s yacht correct but came up with a whole lot of fictional and cinematic elements to stretch it out into a movie – the same principle applies here with certain incidents portrayed with a more or less realistic fashion, however a load of other elements have been changed to give the story a more epic movie quality.

Most notable of the changes is Kelly himself. Whilst Heath Ledger admittedly impresses with the hefty role on his shoulders and carries the young man’s convictions with a solid level of credibility, the character has become more of stereotype than anything else. One of the great things about Ned was that he wasn’t necessarily good or bad – he was a real shades of grey style man with attributes to admire and despise and yet Jordan’s version portrays him in a way that’s clumsily designed to appeal to our sympathies so that he becomes a ‘period piece action hero’ more than anything else. Even less depth is invested in the other film’s characters from his sex obsessed two friends (Bloom & Edgerton) to his two brothers.

Geoffrey Rush also disappoints with what is essentially a cameo as Kelly’s foil (aside from one lame Fugitive-esque speech, the character has like three lines and five minutes of screen time). Funnily enough its the women who steal this film with Naomi Watts making a rather tacked on love interest role into the best performance of the picture – giving her character beauty, grace and charm and yet a rougher edge and cowardice that you totally come to expect. She seems perfectly suited for period pieces and I hope to see her in more in the future. Like wise Rachel Griffiths has a quite fun cameo as a bank manager’s wife in a scene played purely for laughs.

As said before the production values are top notch – the constant dirt, mud and grittiness of rural Australia in the late 1870’s is well portrayed and whilst its populated by charicatures rather than people, the setting at least shows it for all the stark beauty and rustic qualities that you’d expect rather than making it cleaner and neater like most American westerns seem to do. Cinematography is fine but I can’t see why Jordan felt the need to continually insert ubiquitous shots of Aussie flora and fauna simply to remind people we are in the Australian bush – its cheesy, dated and worst of all pandering.

Aforementioned Westerns at least have some action – even at 100 minutes this feels drawn out and whilst there’s some good scenes played for laughs more than anything else, the sole exciting highlight is the famous last stand at Glenrowan even if history has been changed greatly in an attempt to give the movie some life. The so-so score never helps either thanks t a great opening tune which is sadly played over and over to death.

It’s funny, in many ways the way I feel about this film is the way I feel about “Rabbit Proof Fence” – on the one hand I admire the quality that went into it and the story that has to be told, but with more work the execution it could’ve been so much more. Much like ‘Rabbit’ too, mainstream audiences will be quickly bored by this and want something with more meat to it on both a visceral and cerebral level. Big budgets and talented casts still can’t hide what is essentially very amateur filmmaking. Dull, dry and unsatisfying.