Directed by: Gregor Jordan
Written by: Robert Drewe (novel), John Michael McDonagh (screenplay)
Starring: Heath Ledger, Orlando Bloom and Geoffrey Rush
The story of Australia’s infamous bandit, Ned Kelly, is a nugget of gold for the Australian film industry. It’s a real shame then that Gregor Jordan’s adaptation of Robert Drewe’s novel, Ned Kelly, fails to capture the compelling and action-packed potential of this page in Australian history.
As the son of an Irish immigrant family, Ned Kelly became something of a legend in Australia when he started up a gang made of his close friends and brothers, stealing and looting coaches, trains, stores, and banks in the face of the Australian government and the Victorian police. Even with a high price on his head, Kelly was never turned in by the people. His courtesy to the women and gentlemen he robbed became almost as well known as his crimes, and going out with a bang (literally) in a good ol’ Western shoot out against a police in a suit of makeshift armor, it’s not hard to imagine why Kelly’s name has gone down in history.
While Jordan certainly knows how to use the most of the Australian landscape to create a moody atmosphere – both unsettling and strangely beautiful – Ned Kelly struggles to produce engaging characters or a plot line that is as sharp and compelling as its real-life protagonist. Feeling more like start-and-stop episodes strung together, Ned Kelly could have focused on developing the relationships between the Kelly gang members instead of trying to spend all its time trying to impress visually. It is the camaraderie, the roguish mischief, and the til-death-do-us-part loyalty that holds a gang and a movie of this genre together. Without it, we just get a scenic Australian bush tour.