MOVIE: TRUE HISTORY OF THE KELLY GANG
STARRING: GEORGE MACKAY; RUSSELL CROWE; ESSIE DAVIS; NICHOLAS HOULT
DIRECTED BY: JUSTIN KURZEL
AMovieGuy.com’s RATING: 3 STARS (Out of 4)
When history is written by scholars it tends to take on a gravitas that unwillingly fabricates a story. It adds a bit of elegance to something that may have had none. In the case of Ned Kelly, an Irish & Australian thief, and self proclaimed wild man, any story from anyone’s mouth than his own is more myth than reality. In Justin Kurzel‘s True History of the Kelly Gang, written by Shaun Grant, and based on the novel by Peter Carey, does an excellent job of telling this story with an ugly lens, informing the audience about poor outcasts, people who would do whatever it takes for family. Ned Kelly is a legend of rebellion, uprising, and pushing back against authority. It’s best that you hear the story from his side and in True History of the Kelly Gang, the facts are too wild to be fiction.
One aspect that I loved about True History of the Kelly Gang, is that it is a true three-act picture. Things start early, with Ned as a young boy (played excellently by Orlando Schwerdt), where his father is a lost cause and often drunk. Da (as they call him) is also hiding secrets, is belittled by others, and ashamed of his inability to provide for the family. Ellen Kelly (Essie Davis, practically stealing the film) is the fire in the belly of the Kelly gang. Her character is complex, hell, we are introduced to her performing oral sex on the local Sergeant O’Neil (Charlie Hunnam) just so her family won’t be harassed. She’s violent, drunk, a woman that would shoot you if she had to, and she protects her children at all cost. She also has no shame in dismissing her husband, but she loves her Ned, and when the young child comes home dragging a massive dead hog, it’s easy to see why Ned would become the leader of the family.
Directed by Justin Kurzel (Assassin’s Creed; Macbeth), The True History of the Kelly Gang is a film of energetic bursts. This production is a brutally beautiful picture. It’s sweaty, bloody, and often out on the Australian outback. When young Ned is sold…yes, sold to a burly, bearded man by the name of Harry Power, played by Russell Crowe- sporting an amazing beard, the film becomes Crowe’s moment. His time is brief, teaching Ned the violence of the world, how to shoot a gun, and survive, but it leaves a lasting impact into the second half. George MacKay (1917) steps in as the elder Ned, he is a fully realized person. Timid in his leadership, afraid of what others might do to him, but reminded to stay strong by his mother. There is a gradual growth to the person that Ned Kelly becomes, something we don’t see enough of in films today.
The third act is where things become wild, but Kurzel and screen writer Shaun Grant do an excellent job of staying away from a glossy telling. This isn’t Tombstone or Wyatt Earp or the Heath Ledger version of Ned Kelly. It’s a story involving a family where almost every member spends time in a prison at one point. As Ned begins to build his group of gangsters at his side, the story tightens up, showing reckless acts, paranoia, and a final shootout that is one of the more unique interpretations of a shootout that I’ve ever seen. The cinematography from Ari Wegner continues a streak of Kurzel‘s films looking amazing no matter what.
What I found myself loving about True History of the Kelly Gang is that it never left me, and although the narrative does have a better first half than second, this is not like any biopic I’ve ever seen before. In fact, it’s not even a true biopic. True History of the Kelly Gang is rallying cry. It’s a movie about survival and families sticking together, till death due them part.
Written by: Leo Brady