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Ned Kelly (2004)

Reviewed By David Cornelius
Posted 02/25/05 16:04:03

"A solid Aussie Western, if by 'solid Aussie Western' you mean 'total bore.'"
1 stars (Sucks)

If you’re making a movie, it’s often good to a) make it interesting and b) make it visible. “Ned Kelly” suggests that not only do you not need anything of interest to watch, but you don’t even need to see it at all. Just because film is a visual medium doesn’t mean we should be able to see anything, right?

Good gravy, what this movie needs is a capable lighting crew. The film spends a good ninety percent of its running time bathed in shadows and night so glum that it leaves the story mostly incomprehensible. This is not an artistic tactic borrowed from movies like “Wait Until Dark,” either; in “Ned Kelly,” these are scenes we’re meant to see but can’t due to bad camera and lighting choices. At one point, one character tells another to extinguish the only light in the room, sending the picture from mostly unwatchable to completely unwatchable.

Anyway. The movie’s big problem isn’t the visibility thing but the interest thing. In a word, this movie is ass-dull. A reworking of the legend of Australia’s most famous rebel outlaw, the film (adapted by first time screenwriter John M. McDonagh from Robert Drewe’s book “Our Sunshine” and directed by Gregor Jordan of “Buffalo Soldiers” fame) is a colossal bore, seeming barely engaged in its own story. The movie plods from scene to scene with a feeling of “well, here’s the next point in Ned’s life, and I guess we’ll show it.”

Not helping much is a dour turn by a miscast Heath Ledger in the title role. Ledger, complete with miserable Irish accent, gives us a brooding Kelly whose motives are too cloudy to bother revealing, apparently. Ledger’s going for quiet, pensive anger but comes out too blank, too bland. The character demands someone capable of greater depths; the performance we get here is nothing more than what we’d get from a “Young Guns” remake. He’s taken a national icon and removed a century’s worth of intrigue.

The script adds to the cloudiness, throwing us characters that have too little to do, like Rachel Griffith’s pointless extended cameo as a seduced wife or Orlando “Calrissian” Bloom’s role as the guy who stands next to Ned Kelly to, um... I dunno, stand there and look pretty, I guess. Even the main romance, between Kelly and Julia Cook (Naomi Watts), is rushed through without much feeling. And what of Hare (Geoffrey Rush), the cop hot on Kelly’s trail? This should have been a fascinating character; instead, it’s one that feels plunked in out of obligation to history.

Oh, and the final scene that features Kelly’s famous stand-off with an army of policemen? I realize that the whole Kelly-puts-a-bucket-on-his-head-as-a-helmet thing is historically accurate and a key part of the Kelly legend, but dude, it’s such a goofy sight that it completely ruins any somber effect the film was hoping to achieve. (With apologies to the good people of Australia, who admire Buckethead greatly.)

The best I can say about this film is that of all the stories told about Australia’s rogue hero, “Ned Kelly” is one of them. It is not watchable or enjoyable or even educational, but it exists, proving the enduring nature of Kelly as an icon - and of moviemakers as people who always miscast their movies in the hopes that a hot young star will win a few extra millions at the box office.

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