Ned Kelly


Directed by: Gregor Jordan
Written by:Robert Drewe, John M. McDonagh
Starring: Heath Ledger, Orlando Bloom, Geoffrey Rush, Naomi Watts, Laurence Kinlan, Phil Barantini
Released: March 27, 2003
Grade: C

I’m usually one the first in firing criticisms at weak American product but this week I’m forced to do the same on a film emanating from Australia.  Ned Kelly is a bitterly disappointing show that is clearly targeted at overseas markets to the detriment of our own country and its heritage.

As I learnt as part of the primary school curriculum, Kelly was born in Victoria 1854.  Growing up, he saved the life of a drowning boy and was presented by the boy’s parents with a green silk sash.  The death of his father in 1867 resulted in Ned leaving school and finding work in the bush to support the family.  The police were not kind to the Kelly clan who were equally resentful.  In 1871, Ned was sentenced to gaol for being given a stolen horse by a friend.

Released in 1874, his relationship with the authorities had not improved.  Some horses had been stolen and sold in New South Wales and an officer by the name of Alexander Fitzpatrick turned up at the Kelly property to question Ned and his younger brother Dan.  With Ned not home, Fitzpatrick waited and made a pass at Ned and Dan’s sister, Kate.  A fight then broke out, and Fitzpatrick accidentally shot himself.  Back at the station, he claimed Ned had shot him and hence the trouble began.

Ned and Dan fled to evaded police but soon learned their mother had been charged and sentenced to three years herself for assisting in the murder.  Ned sought revenge and began a long campaign against the police.  Robbing banks to fund his activities, the Kelly gang found notoriety in the papers but were loathed by the authorities who soon offered a massive reward.  A massive man hunt began and he was finally caught in a massive shootout at Glenrowan in 1880.

Gregor Jordan, the director of the AFI award winning Two Hands, seems overwhelmed by the subject material and shows snippets of Ned’s life which don’t give the story a flowing feeling.  He includes many unnecessary references to Australian flora and fauna which I can only assume are to help overseas viewers appreciate our country.  I guess he overlooked the important point that it adds zero to the story.

The music from Klaus Badelt is extraordinarily bad and doesn’t suit the film’s style at all.  It looks like a small independent Australian film and yet the score would be more appropriate in a multi-million dollar action blockbuster.  Speaking of appropriateness, where did they find these supporting actors?  Stars Heath Ledger (who needs a good role soon or else) and Orlando Bloom are bearable but as for the remainder… yeesh!  At one point there’s a kid who sees Ned riding in a horse and cries out “look, it’s Ned Kelly!”  If you’ve seen it, you’ll understand just how hammy many of the lines are.

Also note that this is an “interpretation” and shouldn’t be declared as hard truth.  It is very one-sided towards Ned and whilst I’m sure he was harshly treated, the film includes few references to the bad things he did and the innocent people who were killed.  Don’t be too quick in swallowing the story.

For such a renowned Australian icon, you’d think the film would be more exciting.  I was bored stupid and completely uncaring towards these folk.  I fear many others both at home and abroad will be united on this opinion.  I just hope they don’t subject those influential primary school kids to this nonsense when teaching the Kelly legend in the future.