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Ned Kelly (15)



Review by: Jack Foley | Rating: Two

DVD SPECIAL FEATURES: Ned Kelly background piece; Premiere filming; Kelly Gang gallery; Artist conceptions to final features. Theatrical posters; Regions 2/4.

EVERY country has its folk heroes and legends, ‘criminals’ who attempt to take on a corrupt system and win the hearts of a nation, before their capture and/or death ensures their place in history.

Think Robin Hood, for England, or Billy the Kid, for the Wild West of America, or even William Wallace, for Scotland, and you get the gist. In Australia, that ‘honour’ falls to Ned Kelly, a young outlaw who became the most wanted man in the country during the 1880s.

Kelly’s gripe was with the corrupt Victorian police, who were continually prejudiced against his first-generation Irish immigrant family, and he was eventually forced to take up arms when his sister and mother were charged with attempted murder for defending themselves against the unwanted attention of a police officer.

Forced to go on the run, Ned formed a gang with his younger brother, Dan, and two friends, Steve Hart and Joe Byrne, and hid in the Outback, holding up towns and robbing banks, while giving the police the run-around.

His reputation became so large that the authorities were forced to bring in the formidable Superintendent Hare and an army of police to catch him, a hunt which culminated in a showdown at the Inn at Glenrowan.

The story of Ned Kelly has been the subject of several films, most recently starring Mick Jagger, in 1970, but is now given a more serious makeover by the rapidly-emerging director, Gregor Jordan, with Heath Ledger as the eponymous hero.

And, for the most part, it is a riveting movie, which isn’t hindered by the episodic nature of the story, or the need to become too sentimental.

Ledger, as Kelly, goes a long way to casting off the good-looking image that has crept into many performances, turning in a gritty, heartfelt and genuinely affecting performance as the outlaw, while fellow gang members Orlando Bloom (Byrne), Philip Barantini (Hart) and Laurence Kinlan (Kelly jnr) succeed in creating the type of bond which makes their demise all the more heart-rending.

Kinlan and Barantini, especially, tug at the heart-strings during their final moments, while Bloom, as the playboy outlaw of the pack, brings some much needed light relief to the project, and builds on his growing reputation as a British actor of some talent.

Needless to say, Geoffrey Rush, as the earnest Superintendent Hare, adds his customary gravitas, although he remains somewhat under-used, and his connection and admiration for the young Kelly is not given the time you feel it warrants.

That criticism aside, Jordan does inject a great deal of verve into proceedings, peppering them with several stand-out moments, including an early gun battle in the Outback, an escape sequence through a Bush fire, and the emotionally-charged finale, and never allows himself to drift too much into the type of awkward sentimentality that can ruin certain films that are based on real injustices.

There are nods to other movies, of course, such as Braveheart, Young Guns and even Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (for the finale especially), but with this and Buffalo Soldiers under his belt already this year, it seems that the young director is one to watch.

His movie concludes with the fact that, by the time he was captured, 32,000 people petitioned that Ned Kelly should not be hanged, which gives a fair indication of the heightened hero he had become. It is a tribute to Jordan’s skill as a movie-maker that audiences will understand why.

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