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By Clint Morris | March 29, 2004

“I towed the line, despite all temptations”.
In fact, according to Gregor Jordan’s film, bearded outlaw Ned Kelly was a conscientious, sharp, but bullied man who merely got into trouble because “the biggest thieves the sun ever shun, The Victorian Police” singled out his clan, mostly because they’re Irish immigrants.
Having spent most of his life browbeaten by the police, it’s no surprise when young Ned is thrown into the slammer accused of stealing a horse. Naturally, it’s a trumped up charge. When he ultimately returns, it’s to a home about to be further torn apart by the evil arm of the law.
When a police officer assaults Ned’s sister Kate and the Kelly Brothers jump him, it is Ned and his mother who are charged with attempted murder. Yet, Ned wasn’t actually even there at the time, he was romancing the much-married Julia Cook.
Forced to go on the run, Ned is determined to avenge his family and carve a grilling fork into the system that has so wrongly judged him and his family since their arrival in Australia.
“I am a widows son outlawed and my orders must be obeyed”, spurts Kelly as he holds up a bank.
And obeyed he is, to the point where his fellow community start to see him as a prominent savior for the trodden-on Victorian locals.
It’s this glamorous heroism that makes up the meat of Gregor Jodan’s take on “Ned Kelly”. This is as Hollywood as an Australian film could get, right down to the pulsating music, Oscar worthy narrative and “Young Guns” like showdown at the Glenrowan Inn, which closes the film.
But the book, of which this film is based on, Our Sunshine by Robert Drewe, doesn’t hide the fact that a lot of the tale is fictionalized. Sure it’s littered with accountable facts, but a lot of it is fluffed up.
While one will never know the true story behind what really did go on and whether Ned was as saintly as he seems – this film paints him on par with Mother Theresa, as an Australian outlaw envisioned as a superman to the Aussie public, sticking up for what he believed in. But funnily enough, there’s no digs for Kelly’s renowned sleeping with married women, boozing or inept behavior.
If this is the Kelly movie you want to see – where the character is unblemished and supportable – Jordan’s film is your bag. It’s an exciting movie filled with plenty of action, adventure, beautiful cinematography and best of all, terrific performances. Despite based on it’s own story, it’s very similar to Christopher Cain’s take on the Billy the Kid story, “Young Guns”, where a group of law picked-upon outlaws take on the authorities. The finale especially, where they shoot from an old ranch, is very reminiscent of Kelly’s final showdown.
But like the latter movie, entertainment comes first. And also like that film, star power comes a close second.
Heath Ledger is fantastic as Kelly. He gives a very immersing performance, and has misshapen himself into the character. When he wears that infamous tin helmet in the finale, we actually feel that’s the real deal.
In addition, Joel Edgerton gives a terrific performance as the film’s token traitor, Aaron Sherrit, pushed by the authorities to rat out his friends. And Geoffrey Rush, commanding as always, fittingly cast as the towering Superintendent Hare. Unfortunately, the same can’t be said for Naomi Watts, good, but not put to use as Kelly’s married lover, Cook. Her scenes are too short and unseemly to give the sub-plot much substance.
While the picture mightn’t be painted as accurately as some may argue, Jordan’s film is still riveting cinema. From start to finish, it doesn’t miss a beat and by film’s end you’ll be well and truly an official fan supporter of the picked-upon Kelly Gang. If you’ve never educated yourself with the Australian story of Ned Kelly, why not treat yourself to a bit of entertainment at the same time.
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