I had no idea what I was going into with this one other than it was some sort of western movie. Although, from the first five minutes I could tell True Story of the Kelly Gang wasn’t one of those old western shows my grandpa used to make me watch with him when I was a kid.
The title cards at the beginning state this film is not based on the true story of Ned Kelly, but it’s no doubt a product of the filmmakers' imagination to what could have been real. Everything is paced in a peculiar way at first, and by the end it makes total sense. I appreciate the level of commitment Justin Kurzel made to bring this story and its characters to life in a never before seen way. There is a lot of dramatization, but there is stuff that is invented through unconfirmed but speculated history. One of the best and most obvious things that sets this film apart from the countless other adaptations is writer Shaun Grant and Kurzel's emphasis on the gang members wearing dresses. Whether this is a choice by the men to throw off police, to wear just for fun, or both, we'll never know for sure. However, Ned's apparent identity crisis that he carries the whole film paints this detail pretty clear.
The film is based on the book by Peter Carey of the same name, with the book itself being loosely based on the actual history of Ned Kelly set in late 1800s Australia. Ned Kelly is a literal child when he gets sent off with bushranger Harry to avenge his father’s death by killing the sergeant who did it. Haunted by this experience, he grows up to be a fighter but ends up becoming a bushranger himself after defending his family from Constable Alex Fitzpatrick, thus creating the rebellious Kelly Gang. It's an auto-biographical story told by Kelly narrating a letter he writes to his unborn son. I think everything comes back around, tying together nicely into this riveting tale of becoming one of the most infamous punks that ever lived.
ACTING | CHARACTERS | DIALOGUE:
The only thing I knew going into this film was that George MacKay was starring. That's all I needed to want to watch, but it was the rest of the cast that made me want to stay. Essie Davis as Ned's mom Ellen is quite scary yet entrancing. George MacKay is incredible as this gnarly Ned Kelly and hopefully walks out of 2020 with some sort of award for this role. You really can't go wrong with Nicholas Hoult as Fitzpatrick either. Hoult and MacKay make a good cat and mouse duo. Notable mentions go to Orlando Schwert as young Ned as well as Thomasin McKenzie, Charlie Hunnam, and Russell Crowe.
VISUAL EFFECTS | MAKEUP | DESIGN:
MUSIC | SCORE | SOUND DESIGN:
The score is absolutely daunting. It follows you throughout the film and takes you by surprise along with the visuals, especially when everything hits the fan. There is excellent sound design in the scenes with the trains and especially the very end during the shoot out. The sound editing keeps you just as engaged, making you feel like you're in the room with them.
This movie is full of beautiful camera work and framing of its unique imagery. The aerial shots of moving trees and the gloomy dull setting adds a lot of character to the location for being in the middle of nowhere. My favorite part of the set is stark bare trees that surround Ned's childhood home, reflecting this sense of emptiness that looms inside him. The mountain landscapes are also breathtaking. The color grading's overall dullness with pops of reds and greens somewhere in every scene is pleasant to the eye and feels intimate, like much of the film does. Also, I think it’s important to note there are many scenes with strobe lighting for those who are sensitive to rapid flashing lights.
"Nothing Scares A Man Like Crazy."
As someone who isn't the fondest of westerns, I can't recommend this enough. Of all the retellings of the Ned Kelly story, which I haven’t seen, I think this is the only one that I need to. George MacKay threatening to stab someone in the eye with a felt tip pen wearing a lace illusion gown will forever live in my head. If you love westerns and are ready for a really artsy one, the film opens in the states on April 24th, 2020 to VOD.