Based on Peter Carey’s novel. The story of Australian bushranger Ned Kelly and his gang as they flee from authorities during the 1870s.
The legend of Ned Kelly has been told on screen many times before (in modern times, Heath Ledger’s ‘Ned Kelly’ is the best known), but it’s never been told in such a distinctive and hallucinatory fashion. ‘True History of the Kelly Gang’ is an unsparing origin tale that explores the events that shaped Ned Kelly to become the infamous folk hero, unpicking the legend to show the man underneath. It’s directed by Justin Kurzel who has previous for haunting filmmaking that delves deep into the soul of mankind’s darkest impulses (see his excellent take on ‘Macbeth’ for a perfect example of his work), and I thought this was an incredibly compelling piece of cinema.
The film is broadly split into two parts, with the first covering Kelly’s troubled childhood, and the second following the better known events of his adulthood. I found the first half to be infinitely more interesting, partly as the latter part has been told many times before, and we really start to get a sense of the damage and violent intensity that burns within the young Kelly, shaped by his experiences with the law and the poor Irish immigrant family he grew up in. An early influence is Russell Crowe’s Harry Power, a notorious bushranger with his best days behind him, who teaches Kelly how to channel his impulses into violence, as are the actions of his mother (a superb Essie Davis), who has an unusual way of showing her love for her children.
The cinematography is absolutely stunning, as we’ve come to expect from a Kurzel film (even ‘Assassin’s Creed’ looked brilliant, albeit that was pretty much the only thing it had going for it), and his depiction of 1800s Australia shares a lot in common with depictions of the American West in the same time period. Having recently watched John Hillcoat’s ‘The Proposition’, another film about bushrangers in this era, I’ve gained a greater appreciation for this environment and time period, and there are definite similarities in the approach of both films. ‘True History of the Kelly Gang’ is a very good film that explores the reality behind the legend of Ned Kelly, with excellent performances and stunning visuals that bring this sparse hellscape to life.
Directed By: Justin Kurzel
Starring: George MacKay, Essie Davis, Nicholas Hoult, Russell Crowe, Orlando Schwerdt, Sean Keenan, Jacob Collins-Levy, Thomasin McKenzie, Charlie Hunnam, Claudia Karvan, Marlon Williams, Earl Cave, Gentle Ben Corbett and Louis Hewison