The actors are true, even if the movie fibs a bit.
You know who Ned Kelly was. He was an Australian bushranger, who led a gang of criminals known as the Kelly Gang. He was judged as both a hero and a villain, depending on how people saw him and his actions. He was basically the Robin Hood of Australia. I don’t know much about this real-life figure, but I was able to see “True History of the Kelly Gang,” the latest movie version, with a sense of danger and ambition.
The film begins with the information that the narrative is not completely accurate (“Nothing You’re About To See Is True”), and one of the reasons would be that the Kelly Gang wore women’s clothing in their adventures. But there are elements in the movie that are true, like the gang wearing tin buckets on their heads as bulletproof protection, Ned’s mother being in jail, her selling to the bushranger Harry Powers for a short while.
“True History of Ned Kelly” is completely true about one thing: it is chocked full of actors, who nail their roles with riveting intentions.
- George MacKay, who earned my respect after his memorable role in “1917,” delivers the goods as Ned Kelly with his tone and consistency.
- Orlando Schwerdt makes an impressive debut as the young version of him.
- Essie Davis gives a fiery performance as his religious and poverty-stricken mother, who is also stubborn as a mule towards Ned’s choices in life.
- Russell Crowe has a fresh cameo as Harry Powers, even if his beard almost looks like Randy Quaid’s. Usually when I see talented actors with big bushy beards, they tend to have them in bad movies, but this one isn’t.
- Nicholas Hoult plays the main antagonist, a sadistic police constable named Fitzpatrick, whom Ned and his gang are forced to murder. And why wouldn’t they? He even threatens to kill a baby in the film, demanding Ned’s whereabouts.
- Sean Keenan portrays Joe Byrne, a member of the Kelly Gang and Ned’s friend.
- Thomasin McKenzie, who keeps up the good work following “Leave No Trace” and “Jojo Rabbit,” gives a reserved supporting role as an Irish lass named Mary, who becomes Ned’s fiancee.
- And Charlie Hunnam plays a pervert soldier, who forces the mother to arouse him. He has a scene when Harry makes the young Ned shoot him for his immoral actions.
The movie sags a bit in the middle when we see Ned meeting his new love Mary and earning a new enemy Fitzpatrick; and we don’t get the full narrative of the Kelly Gang. I suppose it wants to focus more on their leader Ned, and that’s valid, because MacKay is guided with the right intensity by director Justin Kurzel (“MacBeth,” “Assassin’s Creed”). We see the outlaw’s struggling childhood, hardships, and his introduction to the world of crime.
Shaun Grant’s screenplay embellishes certain elements, but he also has a fun time doing it. Just don’t use this movie to help you with your school assignments. Neither he nor Kurzel are trying to make this a box office hit. In fact, it’s not a blockbuster, but an artisan film. And it has found its way on some streaming platforms this Friday, during the COVID-19 outbreak.
Anyway, they both allow “True History of the Kelly Gang” to have a smashing good amount of energy, rough and tough dialogue, and unexploited stars. And by “unexploited,” I mean the movie doesn’t rely on Crowe or Hunnam to attract movie-goers. It relies on ambition and danger to make it good crikey entertainment.
Available for Streaming on VOD this Friday