Ned Kelly (2003)

          Already the subject of several films (including a 1906 short and a
  1970 biopic starring, of all people, Mick Jagger) and books (including Peter
  Carrey's award-winning
The True History of the Kelly Gang), Ned Kelly is
  to Australia what Robin Hood is to England and perhaps Jesse James is
  to America. He was both a robber and a man of the common people,
  distributing some of the stolen wealth to the impoverished locals. In
  adapting Robert Drewe's novel
Our Sunshine, screenwriter John Michael
  McDonagh and director Gregor Jordan set out to pay homage to this
  uniquely Australian figure.

          The story unfolds fairly straightforwardly. Ned Kelly (Heath Ledger)
  is the son of an Irish immigrant sent Down Under for stealing sheep. The
  local police are certain that the apple doesn't fall from the tree, so Ned is
  accused of stealing a horse and thrown in jail. Once Ned returns from
  serving time, he tries to live an exemplary life. He earns money as a bare
  knuckles boxer and toils as a farmhand on a ranch where he catches the
  eye of the landowner's wife (Naomi Watts).

          Unfortunately, Ned is not able to remain on the straight and narrow.
  His sister is harassed by one of the local police and rebuffs the advances.
  Although Ned is not at home when the incident occurs (he's with his
  boss' wife), he is accused of attacking the policeman. His mother is
  arrested and Ned and his brother Dan (Laurence Kinlan) along with
  friends Joe Byrne (Orlando Bloom) and Steve Hart (Philip Barantini),
  go on the run. The gang turns to robbing banks and soon their
  reputation as outlaws draws nationwide debate. The locals see the
  Kelly gang as saviors (since they recover and/or destroy property deeds)
  while the government views them as cold-blooded killers. A large reward
  is posted and Superintendent Francis Hare (Geoffrey Rush) is dispatched
  to capture or kill Ned Kelly. A plot to ambush Hare and his men goes awry
  at Glenrowan and Kelly's fate and reputation is sealed there.

          There are the makings of a terrific film in this tale and for all its
  efforts to place the story in a proper historical context,
  flounders a bit. There's a dichotomy to the film: Is it a historical epic or
  a character study? What's on screen is a hybrid that doesn't quite come
  together, although it is superior to the 1970 version. Despite some
  interesting sequences and a handful of vivid performances, the movie
  proves to be sluggish and less emotionally satisfying than it should be.

          Heath Ledger delivers a terrific performance as Kelly, moving from
  callow youth to born leader. He anchors the film and injects the proper
  mix of machismo and sensitivity. Laurence Kinlan and Philip Barantini
  are excellent as members of the gang, but Orlando Bloom doesn't
  project the necessary gravitas for his role as Kelly's second-in-command.
  Kris McQuade as the Kelly matriarch offers a fine turn and there's a
  marvelously amusing cameo from Rachel Griffiths as an all too willing
  victim of the gang. Geoffrey Rush is stiff as Hare and doesn't come
  across as a worthy opponent for Ledger's outlaw. Naomi Watts, in the
  only role not based on a real-life character, is totally wasted.

NED KELLY isn't exactly a screen biography (although it
  hews closely to the facts), it still leaves the door open for another
  filmmaker some thirty-odd years from now to tackle the tale once again.

Rating:                          B-
MPAA Rating:                 R for violence and brief nudity.
Running time:                110 mins.

                          Viewed at the Broadway Screening Room.

© 2005 by C.E. Murphy. All Right Reserved.