An all-star cast finds themselves down under in the massively overlooked Ned Kelly, a movie that depicts the rise and fall of the legendary Australian outlaw of the same name.
Heath Ledger stars as Ned Kelly, a young Irish man who has grown up in Australia as the lowest denominator on the food chain. After being accused of assaulting a police officer, he is forced to go on the run, but the result ends up being far more devastating for the government, as he becomes a Robin Hood-esque outlaw. Nevertheless, as his popularity grows among townspeople, more and more officers are committed to the hunt, and it is only a matter of time before he and his Kelly gang are brought to justice - or worse. Orlando Bloom stars as Ned's friend, Naomi Watts as his English lover and Geoffrey Rush as the police inspector brought in to find him.
Ned Kelly came and went through theaters in the blink of an eye, mainly thanks to poor marketing and perhaps a lack of familiarity with this folklore hero. I sure as heck hadn't heard of him, but I am glad I watched the movie - it surely will end up as one of the more entertaining and interesting films of 2004. Ned Kelly is basically a straight-laced historical account of the formation of the Kelly gang, surely with its shortcuts and dramatization. Very little of the film seems unbelievable, although the character of Ned Kelly is perhaps glamorized a bit too much.
The film does suffer from a few minor flaws, which mainly have to do with the plot. It is never explained why the men, who are on the run from the law, suddenly take to robbing banks; one day they just show up in a bank and rob it. Are they strapped for cash? Did they start robbing banks with the sole intent to give it people who needed it? The movie never explains this.
More than anything else, the ending is just a slight bit disappointing, as it never really plays out like the climax that it should be. After all, in reality (or exaggerated reality?), Ned Kelly and his gang get holed up in a tavern for three days in an Alamo-esque situation, yet in the movie the battle only takes place overnight and never is as exciting as it could or should be. Regardless, the ending is still adequately done, and the small advantage the Kelly gang uses is pretty impressive.
As far as acting goes, it is top notch. Heath Ledger is truly one of the most understated actors in the industry; he just hasn't caught on as a leading man quite yet. He is handsome, powerful with words and actually chooses his movies quite well, as long as you ignore The Order. Ledger is perfect as Ned Kelly, and the great thing is he isn't afraid to dirty himself up for a role.
The rest of the cast is also quite good, though none of them really get the chance to do a whole lot. Bloom is effective, but perhaps has a lot to live up to after his action-packed roles in Pirates of the Caribbean and The Lord of the Rings. He sort of just blends into the background. Watts' role isn't all that interesting, but she is decent given the small amount of material she has to work with. Rush's capabilities are also untapped, as he has even less screen time. Ironically, neither Ledger nor Watts use their natural Australian accents.
Ned Kelly is an entertaining and exciting action-drama that can satisfy fans of many genres. Though it hardly made a whimper in theaters, it is definitely worth checking out on the small screen.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.
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