True History of the Kelly Gang

True History of the Kelly Gang


As Australia’s answer to Robin Hood or Jesse James, Ned Kelly has had almost as many silver screen depictions over the years.

There’s been the silent one (1906’s The Story of the Kelly Gang), the serious one (Ned Kelly with Heath Ledger), the funny one (2003’s best forgotten Ned) and the accidentally funny one (the fairly maligned Ned Kelly with Mick Jagger). Now comes the strange and frustrating one.

Director Justin Kurzel looks to coax an originL story of national identity from Peter Carey’s Booker Prize-winning novel of the same name. As in his brilliant Snowtown (and his Macbeth adaptation), Kurzel is a master of slow-brewing tensions (we’ll forget about Assassin’s Creed).

Early on, this edge stems from Kelly’s formidable mum (Essie Davis from The Babadook, superb) and a young Ned facing off against a British sergeant; later, it’s Nicholas Hoult’s odious constable and George MacKay’s grown-up Ned.

A gleeful Russell Crowe makes off with the middle bit as a highwayman who shows Ned the ropes. There’s also an appearance for Charlie Hunnam as a cartoonish villianish cop  along the way, too.

It’s all heading somewhere special as Kelly muses on masculinity and colonialism, but then coherence gives way to flashy visuals and bursts of expressionistic violence.

A nocturnal shootout is strobed like a rock gig, but all the showiness blunts the film’s thoughtful edge.

It ends up being a great spectacle, rather than a great film.

The climax is a punky, Peckinpah-like splurge that jettisons the emotion and power in a hail of lead.

However, this is possibly the most enjoyable adaptation of the Kelly story, and the attempts to update the tale and give it a rock and roll edge certainly work.

It’s a shame some of the strong work in the early parts of the film are undone slightly by the finale.

Kurzel seems to be doing more right than wrong in his career so far. We’re looking forward to see where it goes.

Another retelling of the Ned Kelly story

For the flashy bursts of violence

Justin Kurzel

Mar 12

By Time Out staff | 11 Mar 2020


True History of the Kelly Gang
DirectorJustin Kurzel
CastingGeorge MacKay, Essie Davis, Nicholas Hoult