Judging simply by the cast, one could easily get the impression that they should watch a film like Ned Kelly. After all, stars like Heath Ledger, Naomi Watts and Geoffrey Rush can certainly get me excited to see a movie (Orlando Bloom less so). One can be forgiven for thinking that Ned Kelly would be worth a watch giving its attractive cast, but alas, entertainment is something that you won’t get from it.
A lot of the problems of the film have to do with the under-utilization of the talent involved. Instead of getting a film that stars all of these actors, we get one that stars Heath Ledger as the titular Ned Kelly, but often has little to do with any of the other actors. (Although Orlando Bloom is a tag-along friend whose role could easily have been removed and nobody would have noticed.) Geoffrey Rush is something I kept wanting to show up, but is completely absent from the film for the first hour, and only pops up a few times in the second half. Naomi Watts plays a love interest who also only appears a few times, and only does so when it’s convenient to the plot.
Said plot involves a young Ned Kelly (Ledger) who gets accused of shooting a police officer in 19th century Australia. Being Irish and therefore of lesser value than everyone else, (apparently), he has to flee or be killed by the local coppers. He gathers a gang together and decides that he is going to fight back against the injustice that is occurring all around the country. Other Irishmen and women are being rounded up and jailed for no reason, and the English play the villains even though Ned Kelly is the one that ends up taking the first, second and third shots.
It’s hard to sympathize with a character like this. If we were to relate this film to modern day, Kelly would appear like a terrorist. He has one thing go against him because of one dirty police officer, and then decides to take that anger out on anyone that crosses his path. Presumably a lot more happens to a far greater range of people, as Kelly gets quite a bit of support as he journeys the country, but since this isn’t actually shown to us, we only have assumptions and the descriptions that the lead character gives us. And since our lead is essentially a terrorist, it’s hard to take his word seriously.
This is based on the life of an actual person though, so these criticisms are directed mostly at real life. And that’s not fair, because I’m sure there was more reason behind Kelly’s actions than being set-up by a dirty cop. But the film doesn’t tell us this. Again, we’re left with assumptions. Director Gregor Jordan doesn’t seem to want to show us much of anything, instead choosing to have characters tell us that “life is bad, and we’re going to try to change that”. And that’s what most of the film consists of: People standing around, talking in inspirational ways, or having shootouts with the local police force. Unfortunately, this isn’t fun for us.
I feel sorry for the talent involved in this production, because they all put in a lot of work. Ledger is actually the weakest of the actors, partially due to the fact that we see him for far too much of the film. He doesn’t show much emotion other than determination, even when situations call for him to be upset. The rest of the cast, as previously mentioned, (but cannot be said enough), is not utilized to the best of their ability. Orlando Bloom does a very impressive Irish accent, and I felt the film pick up ever so slightly whenever Geoffrey Rush came on-screen. But since that happened a handful of times, it was not anywhere near enough energy to save this lifeless film.
For something that was trying to show us the revelatory ways of a cult hero, there wasn’t a whole lot of revolution taking place. Mostly, Kelly and his gang just roam around the country, robbing banks and shooting at policemen. There is a big shootout at the end where it actually felt, if they win, that they would make a statement, but that was the sole moment when I felt that there was that chance. The rest of the time, they just seemed like petty criminals.
There also doesn’t seem to be much of an actual story that holds the film together. Being hard done by and wanting to enact revenge is one thing, but having that as the sole motivating factor of a film, where any evidence of being “hard done by” is sketchy to begin with, just doesn’t work. Knowing this, a poor attempt at a love story was introduced, and then kind of just left alone for most of the film. And there are a couple of interesting group members who take a back seat and rarely get to talk. Bloom’s character seem to be a ladies’ man, but nothing comes of it. The film just feels incomplete.
Ned Kelly is based on a true story. How true does it stay? We’ll probably never know. But that doesn’t matter all that much. The film that resulted from this story is a mess. From under-utilizing talent to including subplots that don’t go anywhere, Ned Kelly never gels together to create a solid film. And that’s before we come to realize that our lead character, the man that we’re supposed to be rooting for, is nothing but an olden day terrorist who shoots cops and robs banks. I was drawn in by the stars, but repelled by how poor the film was. Definitely avoid this one.