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Overall Rating

Worth A Look: 13.92%
Average: 13.92%
Pretty Bad: 13.92%
Total Crap: 13.92%

5 reviews, 49 user ratings

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Ned Kelly (2004)
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by MP Bartley

"Another true-to-life villain/hero...Ho-hum..."
2 stars

Ned Kelly is an Australian legend and fits neatly into the list of great anti-establishment heros - Robin Hood, William Tell, Bonnie and Clyde etc - who screwed over the authorities and gave hope to the little man. But are they really that heroic or was there a nasty side to them that's conveniently painted over? Maybe we'll never truly know. Gregor Jordan's biopic here doesn't get any closer to the truth.

Heath Ledger is Irish immigrant Ned Kelly looking after his Ma and his brood of brothers (including Orlando Bloom), in rural Australia. Being Irish immingrants however marks him for unfair treatment at the hands of the local police. Who, bizarrely, are also all Irish. Who knew Dublin was a small suburb in Australia?

Ned believes that this treatment is unfair anyway. The fact that he's a surly brawler doesn't seem to register with him as a possible reason for becoming a target for police attention. He also starts an affair with a local nobleman's wife, Julia Cook (Ledger's real life squeeze - lucky bugger- Naomi Watts). However the crux of the film starts with accusations of horse thieving and a drunken police officers unwanted attention on Ned's sister. Ned is innocent as he was with Cook at the time but as she won't provide him with an alibi for fear of controversy, he and his brothers are forced to go on the run. This leads to a nationwide hunt lead by police chief Hare (Geoffrey Rush).

After Gregor Jordan's sometimes good/sometimes excellent direction of the anti-hero Elwood in Buffalo Soldiers you'd be forgiven for thinking he'd take that same dark tone with the legend of Kelly here. Legends like Kelly are full of contradiction - folk-heroes for the working class, but also murdering, bank robbers all the same. It has the raw materials needed for a full-blooded character investigation. Unfortunately he doesn't take the road less-travelled, but takes the simplistic and obvious one, simply making Ned Kelly a misunderstood, basically decent man forced into action and vengeance.

So what you have is the familiar tale of all police being corrupt, bloodthirsty villains, while Kelly and his gang are twinkle-toed Irish leprachauns simply trying to survive. Were Kelly's family mis-treated? Probably yes. But did Kelly suffer heart-rending anguish about taking the lives of policeman as the film trys to show us? I would doubt it. Yes murder is wrong for whatever reason, but sugarcoating the issue by showing Kelly as the only man with a conscience is simply morally wrong. Didn't the policemen perhaps show a conscience or ever think Kelly was mis-treated? Probably, but hey that's not interesting because they're not CRIMINALS! Let's not forget that that's what Kelly and his gang were. Hell, that's why they're immigrants in the first place. It's just another case of Hollywood portraying the Irish as the most put-upon race in existence. In Hollywood, even Irish terrorists are noble, tragic heroes.

And Kelly's gang even rob banks with a bit of blarney and a charming smile. As they hold banks up they crack jokes to the hostages, read poems, probably even dance. Bloom even seduces the bank managers wife within two minutes of holding her up as she can't resist those twinkling eyes of his. It's as if Justin Trousersnake reformed N'Sync to embark on a tour of crime and robbery. But hey let's remember they only took money from the rich folk at the banks. Yeah right. It's this kind of one-sided, gooey-eyed romanticism that really infruriates here. Wouldn't it be nice for a change if films portrayed criminals as...well, criminals?

True, it would be wrong to dismiss Kelly and the gang as bloodthirsty thugs. They probably weren't. But isn't it as equally wrong to portray them as happy-go-lucky heroes? They probably weren't that either. And that's the films problem - no-one will truly know but the film doesn't even try to approach this ambiguity.

Jordan also fails to lose the vagaries of the plot and the simplistic characterisation in style. The outback of Australia feels like it could be anywhere and there's little sense of the period or the harshness of the times. It's too small-scale and looks like a superior made-for-tv drama. The cast struggle manfully to make an impression but are ill-served by the thin script. Ledger is certainly better than Mick Jaggers portrayal in the 70's but is still a long way from leading man material. Watts is underused while Rush just rolls out one of his familiar sneering villain roles that was a lot more fun in 'Pirates of the Carribean'. The rest of the cast just get lost in a sea of silly accents and dodgy beards

The end shootout goes for a tragic dimension and admittedly gets halfway there with the death of innocent by-standers (shot by the police obviously. Kelly and his gang would never shoot an innocent person, not even by accident. Unless they're a policeman) and the fact that it's only at the end when they're screaming and crying for their Ma, that you realise how young Kelly's brothers were. But even that tragedy is hamstrung by the very silly sight of Ledger and co with buckets on their heads and wearing dustbins for armour. Historically accurate maybe...but still silly.

'Ned Kelly' then is just another 'yawn so-so' portrayal on an enigmatic historival figure. Nowhere near truly awful, but a long way from good as well, it's not the lack of atmosphere or silly accents or lock of dramatic power that is the films biggest flaw. It's Jordan's attempt to unravel and explain an enigmatic figure in the most simplistic and patronising way possible. Now THAT'S a crime.

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originally posted: 03/11/04 21:54:20
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User Comments

6/09/16 Ned Kelly 5 stars
8/20/08 Geebus Eh. It was kinda mediocre. The story moved too fast and the script was pretty dodgy. 2 stars
8/12/07 Hello Stranger i saw nothing wrong with it. only ledger could pull this off. 4 stars
5/27/06 Poof weighs about 100kg 3 stars
5/18/06 chienne It's embarrassing, SO historically inaccurate, REALLY bad. Ugh! 1 stars
4/08/06 p you do realise that your compleately anti-irish you know 4 stars
6/16/05 Renee Casey This film was awesome, i really like Heath Ledger and Orlando Bloom in this type of setting 5 stars
3/17/05 Landshark Folk-hero leaves moribund legacy, it is left unclear why we should remember the buckethead? 2 stars
1/05/05 Steve Newman What a great film. Different ending to any I had seen or read before. Was it true? 5 stars
11/04/04 andrew great movie go and watch it 5 stars
9/07/04 Nina Kelly its amazing! go see it! you have no clue what you're missing if you dont! 5 stars
8/12/04 danny theyre irish convicts not immigrants did the critic even watch this movie? 5 stars
7/28/04 Brit and Erin Orlando and Heith are great actors and the movie was amazing and a wonderful tear-jerker. 5 stars
6/14/04 Daniel Pearson good acting, nice cinematography, really bad script 3 stars
3/31/04 martin smith really good 5 stars
3/14/04 rory TRUE MASTERPIECE 5 stars
2/14/04 fi it was so great it was really sad but great just the same 5 stars
1/23/04 Chloe Brody They should have made this 1 1/2 hours longer - it would have been so much better!!! 4 stars
11/24/03 Nicole Not worth watching 1 stars
9/30/03 Troy Butler Although a well made movie, ... just a bit too hard to take in all of the added "fiction"! 3 stars
9/27/03 Chlo I loved this, the 4 main actors were brilliant - fantastic casting (Orlando is a hottie!) 5 stars
9/16/03 Trevor Gensch Shame they had to make so much up - the real story is a lot better 3 stars
8/22/03 kate i thought it was amazing 5 stars
7/29/03 Leilana Mackay I think it was one of my favourite movies. GO HEATH AND ORLANDO!! 5 stars
7/17/03 agent smith it sucked serious balls 1 stars
7/01/03 Larry OH GOD!! 1 stars
6/06/03 tazza shitty 1 stars
4/23/03 Jane Erickson a very unnerving movie, brought me to tears by the end, although more fiction than fact 4 stars
4/23/03 Melissa McGregor Pretty good, fine cast, well shot, completely bloody inaccurate though- shame. :) 4 stars
4/19/03 Orlando kix ass It surley on of the best I've seen in a while. but it still doesn't compare to lotr 5 stars
4/15/03 OrLaNdO_fOr_PrEsIdEnT AMAZING!Made me cry,laugh and evrything orlando and heath were exellent!Most of it true! 5 stars
4/13/03 Amy Caldwell Made me cry BUT I LOVED IT 5 stars
4/08/03 Josh McTaggart Awesome 5 stars
4/06/03 alien assassin Overblown rendition of Australia's most famous folk legend. Heath Ledger was good though. 3 stars
4/05/03 Rebecca Lawson I think the Ned Kelly movie is 1 of the best life storys ever but why would there be a love 5 stars
4/03/03 Shon Over-hyped, doesn't deliver. 2 stars
4/03/03 Nette did someone even tell John M. McDonagh Ned dies in the end? 4 stars
4/02/03 nessajoy Disappointing, average. The gang got as much sympathy from me as a Sydney surburban gang. 4 stars
4/01/03 John Bale Not yet the definative Kelly film, but very entertaining. Ledger impresses. 4 stars
4/01/03 Geoff A great period film. Agree with Bitchslap review. Heath is great. 4 stars
3/31/03 thomas whiteside It was totally unacurate, but an ok movie if you were just looking for a fictional drama! 2 stars
3/31/03 Nienna Anwamanė I thought it was a pretty good film! Unless you actually lived then, no probs! 5 stars
3/31/03 david james Had the mythology gone further more character depth 2 stars
3/31/03 Nikki After seeing the transformation from Legolas to Joe, I'm a hooked Orlando Bloom fan! 5 stars
3/30/03 punnani incredible, it made me cry ... and i never cry at the movies ... 4 stars
3/29/03 Lottie Bloom it is the best movie who says fictional it is a true story hun except 4 naomis character 5 stars
3/28/03 Felicity Campbell The movie ROCKED! Are you people blind? 5 stars
3/26/03 david james fictional but compelling 4 stars
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  26-Mar-2004 (R)
  DVD: 27-Jul-2004



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