A Moving Account
Bu-Chan | Aotearoa | 05/04/2005
(4 out of 5 stars)
"For most people Down Under, the name Ned Kelly elicits feelings ranging from near religious devotion and hero-worship to the most bitter, deep-seated hatred. Like many figures who have come to be regarded as popular heroes, there has been the accretion of a lot of legend to the name of Ned Kelly, which can make getting to the real man a tall order.
The movie, Ned Kelly, is based in the southern state of Victoria, (it was filmed just outside Melbourne), and follows the Kelly Gang through the unjust imprisonment of Ned Kelly (Heath Ledger) and then his mother after false accusations from a Victorian Police officer. Other injustices are committed against the Kelly's and their friends, which only increases Kelly's resolve to hit back. The film climaxes in the last stand made at Glenrowan, and the tragedy that it was.
The movie is excellently shot and uses the scenery of Victoria well to give an atmosphere and aura of colonial roughness contrasted with the well-to-do nature of the British middle and upper classes at the time. The film simply looks nice, as well as uses real historical sites. For example, the scene where Ned Kelly leaves prison is the gate to the Old Melbourne jail, (that part is now a building devoted to tertiary education). It is worth a visit, if you are ever in Melbourne, as the wing where Kelly was kept is still intact and open to the public.
The principle actors are all excellent in their roles and they bring off the Irish character of the Kellys and their friends well. Orlando Bloom is excellent as Kelly's friend, Joe Byrne. Accurately shown to be fluent in Cantonese, Bloom brings Byrne to life. Heath Ledger does an admirable job of portraying Ned Kelly in the details, bringing to light what motivated and drove Kelly, as well as the emotional struggles that Kelly might have gone through. Laurence Kinlan and Phil Barantini deserve mention as well for their parts as Dan Kelly and Steve Hart respectively, and the protrayal of their tragically short lifes and their courage at the end.
The movie is a great story, and brings a man and his friends to life. It is an excellent overview of a complex figure and it attempts to show what the real man was, and in most respects succeeds in doing so. The movie does presents one "interpretation" of the Ned Kelly story, and presents him in a very positive light. The director, Gregor Jordan, is very open and honest about this, saying that he hoped people would be encouraged to find out more and form their own opinions. The movie also takes some liberties with the facts, but these do not overly affect the plot or its value as a Kelly movie.
If you have never seen or read about Ned Kelly, then I would suggest that one read a book called Ned Kelly: A Short Life by Ian Jones, (available from Amazon). Read it before you see the movie and it will help you understand where the movie is coming from and where the movie is drawing its material from. Secondly, the book will fill in information that is either not given in the movie, or could be easily missed. This information would provide a greater understanding of why Kelly does things in the movie.
For example, the reason for the siege at Glenrowan is not terribly clear in the movie, though it is indirectly alluded to in a couple of scenes. One scene is when Kelly and Byrne are writing the Jerrilderee Letter, and Kelly warns people not to "attempt to reside" in Victoria. The second scene is when Francis Hare, (Rush), is addressing his officers and warns that the Kelly Gang have been elevated as leaders of a "movement" that threatens the very structure of the colony of Victoria. What the book reveals is that Kelly and the Gang were trying to start an uprising, and cut the rail at Gelnrowan to aid them in this. It was not just an attempt to kill as many officers as they could for no real reason. They also had supporters ready to rise in the area around the town, and there were worries after the seige ended that they would still cause trouble.
Also, the book presents a more balanced context to the movie. It is not revealed in the movie that Kelly had run with an older bushranger, (bandit), when he was in his teens and learned a lot from the older man, (such as bush craft and bushranging). It was from this older man that Kelly learned the value of a wide support base among the general population. This was helped a lot when the Kelly Gang burned a bank's mortgages, (the farmers got their loans cancelled and their farms free).
Overall, the movie is excellent, and I enjoyed it immensely. It is a touching story, and one may need to watch it in the dark to hide the tears, ;-). The story is one worth telling, and the cast and crew of this movie have told the story well. I would only recommend reading the book as well for the reasons above. Love him or hate him, it is undoubted that Ned Kelly makes a great movie and will remain in the popular imagination for generations to come."
A Beautiful Tragic Drama
(5 out of 5 stars)
"I watched this film because of the actors on the billing, not knowing what to expect, and came away deeply touched and with a new respect for Heath ledger. This is a very touching movie, a gritty look at the lives of the Ned Kelly Gang, a group of four friends pushed to become outlaws due to the injustices their family suffers in colonial Austrailia. It is a beautiful and tragic story. The actors have done a surpurb job, portraying not brash larger-then-life characters, but realistic people who have suffered and yet have to go on, tragic heros whom you have to feel for by the end of the film. Ledger gives a confident and mature preformance, unlike any other part he has done before. It isn't a role in which I would have expected to see him, but he definately suceeds and shows his versitality as a serious actor. The Irish culture portayed against the Austrailian landscape gives the movie a surreal quality, and a look at a historical era not usually thought of. This is a breautiful dramatic peice you'll not want to miss. Very well worth it in my opinion."
Lee Armstrong | Winterville, NC United States | 11/29/2004
(4 out of 5 stars)
"Gregor Jordan's version of "Ned Kelly" may not be quite as playful as the 1970 Mick Jagger version, but it is a well-done recounting of this Australian legend. Jordan packs the cast with Australian actors who deliver. Australian Heath Ledger delivers a controlled performance that shows great force. Ned Kelly shows a different side of Ledger than we've seen in "10 Things I Hate About You," "A Knight's Tale" or "Monster's Ball." It may come closest to the tightly wound performance he offered in "The Order." Ledger also starred in Gregor Jordan's first film in 1999, "Two Hands," which I have yet to see; so this is their second teaming.
Orlando Bloom does a great job as Kelly's good friend and sidekick. Quite different than "Pirates of the Caribbean," we get to see a Bloom who is a Romeo, constantly hitting on girls with a twinkle in his eye. Most hilarious is his scene with Australian Brenda Griffiths as the bank president's wife where he seduces her a floor above where her spectacled husband sits under gun. Griffiths' Oscar nomination in 1998 for "Hillary & Jackie" and her starring role on HBO's series "6 Feet Under" have made her face familiar; and she has great fun here with Orlando.
Naomi Watts who was born in Great Britain but raised in Australia doesn't have a demanding role as the wife of the horse owner. She seduces Ned Kelly in the stable. For her, this is no "21 Grams," "Mullholland Drive" or "The Ring," but she does what is required in admirable fashion.
The supporting actors also do nice jobs. Laurence Kinlan as brother Dan Kelly has only one other acting credit, "Intermission" with Colin Farrell. Philip Baratini who plays the other gang member Steve Hart does a good job, and is a newcomer. Australian Oscar winning actor Geoffrey Rush (Shine) does a nice job with some emotional levels as the British soldier who chases the Kelly gang. Particularly touching is when he asks for Kelly's sash at the end of the film. Kerry Condon as Ned's sister Kate does a good job of living it up in the pub & then putting off the British soldier who is pursuing her. It will be interesting to see her star in 2005 with Jet Li, Morgan Freeman & Bob Hoskins in "Unleashed." Kiri Paramore as the policeman Fitzpatrick who has an eye for Kate does an appropriately repulsive job of hitting on Ned's sister.
The pacing of the film is excellent; there are no dead spots. We see the action of the film mushroom as the injustice of British rule as applied to the Irish in Australia is made. The cinematography is excellent; and the battle scene is well photographed. The DVD bonus features are interesting. Ledger does bear a resemblance to the original Ned Kelly. It was interesting to see clips from the early Ned Kelly films and from Mick Jagger's 1970 effort. This is a good film, ably acted & directed. Enjoy!"
The Siege of Glenrowan and the last stand of Ned Kelly
Lawrance M. Bernabo | The Zenith City, Duluth, Minnesota | 09/02/2004
(4 out of 5 stars)
"I learned from "Breaker Morant" and "Gallipoli" that the British had little regard for Australian soldiers so it was not surprising to learn from this 2003 version of the "Ned Kelly" story that the British Down Under treated the locals with similar disdain. When it turns out that the title character is also of Irish decent, well, that is just pouring it on when you cross reference all of the films in which the British make the Irish suffer. It is easy enough to explain to the casual viewer that Ned Kelly is the Australian equivalent of Jesse James, but that misses the point that Kelly was a much more popular figure in his land that James was (as witnessed at the 2000 Olympics in Sydney where dancers wearing Kelly's iron helmet with the slit, inspired by Sidney Nolan's Ned Kelly paintings) and that his ending was much more fascinating than that of the American outlaw.
The story of Ned Kelly as told in Gregor Jordan's film is fairly straightforward. Young Ned (Heath Ledger) is sent to prison for a crime that he did not commit, condemned by his ethnicity more than any facts, and when he emerges from prison the authorities continue to go after his family. Since he is being treated like an outlaw he decides to become one along with his brother, Dan (Laurence Kinlan), his best friend, Joe Byrne (Orlando Bloom), and another friend, Steve Hart (Phil Barantini). Superintendent Francis Hare (Geoffrey Rush) leads the police in the great effort to hunt Ned and the boys down, but the Kelly Gang is popular with the people and are able to ride free for a while.
Telling the dramatic story of Kelly's life is hampered by the fact that before his famous last stand at Glenrowan the most notable part of his criminal career was the Jerilderie Letter, a demand for justice written in Ned's own hand that detailed the way he and his family and friends had been treated by the authorities. This is reduced in the film to a chance to call public officials wombats and the like. Fortunately the Siege at Glenrown, which constitutes the final act of the film, is more accurate and more compelling, and provides the best reason for checking out this otherwise rather slow moving film.
With so many people gunning for him Kelly came up with the idea of fashioning bullet-proof armor that could protect them during their bank robberies. The gang also came up with a plan to stop a special train at Glenrowan, the area of their staunchest support, but Hare found out about the plan and was able to turn Glenrowan into a trap for Ned and his boys, as well as their supporters. The battle turned into a siege, with the armor of the Kelly Gang giving them a way of negating the number of armed police that were taking shots at them.
The depiction of what happened at Glenrowan is reasonably accurate and is dramatic enough that I can understand why the film does not go on to show either Kelly's trial or execution. Besides, Jordan has a final ironic touch that he can play with regards to a bloody sash. The armor worn by the Kelly Gang at Glenrowan is on display at various places around Australia and one of the nice touches of the film is how it shows it providing protection, for the most part, but hampering the efforts of the boys to actually aim and shoot their own guns with any degree of accuracy. The armor weighed almost 100 pounds and while it could indeed stoop a Martini-Henry bullet at ten paces there were the practical problems of having extra horses to carry it around, the time it took to put it on, and the ways in changed everything from walking to shooting.
I underscore the historical accuracy of the Kelly Gang armor because those not well versed in Australian folk history, which is pretty much your entire American audience, might think that this is far fetched. But you can imagine how the idea of such armor would appeal to four men being hounded by an army of police, so that becoming the "iron outlaws" seemed as good a tactic as any to try and change things to give them more of a fighting chance. The story outweighs the acting and everyone from Ledger and Rush to the supporting cast give the appearance of playing parts in a pageant, which, from the Australian perspective, would most decidedly seem to be the case. I dare say that female fans of Ledger and Bloom, in particular, are going to be rather surprised by the history lesson they receive here.