True History of the Kelly Gang

Review by Rich Cline | 3.5/5

True History of the Kelly Gang
dir Justin Kurzel
scr Shaun Grant
prd Justin Kurzel, Paul Ranford, Hal Vogel, Liz Watts
with George MacKay, Essie Davis, Nicholas Hoult, Charlie Hunnam, Russell Crowe, Orlando Schwerdt, Thomasin McKenzie, Sean Keenan, Earl Cave, Louis Hewison, Marlon Williams, Claudia Karvan
release Aus 9.Jan.20,
UK 28.Feb.20, US 24.Apr.20
19/Australia Film4 2h04

davis hoult hunnam

keenan, mackay and cave
Peter Carey's acclaimed novel, which recasts the story of legendary Australian outlaw as an epic myth, is adapted for the big screen by Justin Kurzel, deploying his strikingly vivid, often hallucinatory visual approach. The film also boasts a powerhouse performance from George MacKay in the lead role as perhaps Australia's most famous historical figure, a young man who went on a violent crime spree to protest injustice.
In the wastelands of 1860s Victoria, 11-year-old Ned (Schwerdt) is raised by his fiercely independent mother Ellen (Davis), taught how to use a gun by her shady suitor Harry (Crowe). After 10 years in prison, Ned (now MacKay) finds himself in trouble again when he clashes with police constable Fitzpatrick (Hoult). This time he and his best pal Joe (Keenan) go rogue, along with Ned's brother Dan (Cave) and Dan's friend Steve (Hewison). They leave a trail of destruction behind them, culminating in an epic showdown with the law.
Mixing fact and fiction, the screenplay finds several clever points where the audience can connect with the story. The invented character of Mary (McKenzie), Ned's girlfriend, adds a human angle, while the way Dan and Steve like to wear dresses so people think they're crazy adds some vague subtext. The film's timbre is far too portentous for its own good, as Kurzel keeps the story's undercurrents enigmatic, often obscuring them entirely. But there's plenty of suggestion to evoke intriguing questions, provocatively drawing the viewer in.

Kurzel's full-bodied approach provides plenty of grist for MacKay and Schwerdt. Both actors create a fiercely complex character, diving into scenes with a superb mix of thoughtfulness and wild-eyed abandon. Ned's interaction with others has unexpected textures, with Davis and Hoult shining in the most nuanced supporting roles. Others are less developed, although Crowe is terrific as the corpulent outlaw, Hunnam has a few pointed moments as an arrogant lawman, and McKenzie provides some unusual soulfulness.

While the film looks terrific and packs a visceral punch, it also features some of Kurzel's more troubling quirks, including muffled dialog, excessive blood-letting, a fear of sexuality and a generally over-serious tone. This means that the film feels rather indulgent, even as it sidesteps some of the more intriguing angles in the story. Still, the performances are so earthy, and the narrative so gripping that it leaves the audience breathless. Forget the facts, the myth is a lot more colourful.

cert 185 themes, language, violence, sexuality 22.Jan.20

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