As a huge fan of 1982’s The Man from Snowy River (and the TV Series, Snowy River: The McGregor Saga, but definitely not so much the film’s sequel, Return to Snowy River) the idea of watching another film set in the wild 1800’s Australian frontier had me absolutely excited. After watching The Legend of Ben Hall, I was left majorly disappointed. From what I gather, the non-fictional events this film is based on could make for a fascinating and deep character study about a man outside of the law trying to come to terms with his past and lack of future, but this movie kind of dropped the ball on doing so, instead The Legend of Ben Hall simply delivers a very slow and somewhat boring movie going experience. The film and its characters feel in no way legendary. I have no insight into what supposedly makes these historical men compelling because this film fails to depict them in anything close to a compelling way.
“The film and its characters feel in no way legendary.”
Jack Martin plays Ben Hall, a legendary bushranger who rose to prominence in mid-to-late 1800’s in Australia. For those unaware, the term bushranger mostly refers to outlaws with the necessary survival skills to evade law enforcement in Australia’s dangerous and unforgiving wilderness. After some turmoil with his former wife, Hall sets off to rob and pillage to his heart’s content, but he has a strict ‘no kill’ code he lives by. Joining Hall on his adventures is legendary outlaw in his own right, John Gilbert (played by Jamie Coffa), and relative newcomer to the life of crime, John Dunn (played by William Lee). From there on the film follows their adventures leading up to their inevitable downfall. Sadly, Jack Martin is a bore as Ben Hall. He plays the character in such a monotone and boring way that doesn’t make the character relatable or interesting in the least. As a viewer unfamiliar with the real life history and significance of these people, The Legend of Ben Hall does not properly explore Ben Hall’s relevance. As the credits rolled, I felt I gained no insight into who Ben Hall was, and I wasn’t particularly interested in researching for myself. Jack Martin and the script he was working with do little to make Ben Hall engaging. Jamie Coffa’s portrayal of John Gilbert is fucking atrocious. It’s blatantly obvious he’s going for the ‘Val Kilmer as Doc Holliday’ role as the eccentric and nuanced anti-hero that makes the film memorable, but everything about this character and the acting choices put into playing him is downright obnoxious and grating. Fuck his annoying laugh, it’s like somebody dragging their long, dirty fingernails against a chalkboard while fire ants chew on your genitals and then your parents call to tell you they’re getting divorced and your brand new puppy ate a pan of brownies and died shitting itself. It’s deflating that there are no happy mediums with the characters in this film. They’re either terribly boring, or so over-the-top that they touch the goddamned moon.
“…The Legend of Ben Hall does not properly explore Ben Hall’s relevance.”
I’m sure there’s a good film that could be made out of Ben Hall and his adventures, but I have to say this one just isn’t it. The setting and story has promise, and the cinematography is competent enough, but the film has a distracting washed out color scheme that does a disservice to its wilderness locale. As low-budget indie films go, I’ve seen better, but I’ve most definitely seen worse. If the film featured stronger actors and a stronger script this could have been an impressive biographical period piece. As it stands, The Legend of Ben Hall doesn’t offer much, especially those not well-versed on legendary Australian bushrangers. It’s probably a good idea just to skip this one.
The Legend of Ben Hall (2017) Written and Directed by: Matthew Holmes. Starring: Jack Martin. Jamie Coffa, Joanne Dobbin, Adam Willson, William Lee, Arthur Angel, Erica Field
6 out of 10