True History of the Kelly Gang movie poster
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True History of the Kelly Gang
True History of the Kelly Gang movie poster

True History of the Kelly Gang Movie Review

Confusingly not a true or historical depiction of Australian outlaw Ned Kelly and his gang, True History of the Kelly Gang is a visceral treat of a film, superbly acted and violently enthralling.

The movie traces Ned Kelly’s later crimes to his childhood, where he lives a far from idyllic life with his mother and at the mercy of the brutal and corrupt men in their lives. It’s this early exploration of the infamous character that I found most compelling, thanks in part to young Orlando Schwert’s performance and Justin Kurzel’s unflinching direction.

Kurzel holds little back from the audience, and yet the movie never feels excessively violent or rough. Kurzel paints a bleak picture of Kelly’s home and upbringing—the film begins with the boy witnessing his mother being forced to go down on a local sergeant (Charlie Hunnam) and rarely presents a more positive outlook on life from there—but the story’s energy and pace helps it avoid being dragged into the gutter. The movie offers several moments of horrific violence, but all make sense in the context of the story.

When the movie advances into Kelly’s adult years, it loses just a little of the vibrancy that worked so well early on. Despite a fantastic performance by George MacKay (1917), Kurzel slackens his grasp of what makes his character tick; Kelly is a troubled man but much of the machinations he goes through later in life are just that, events and moments that happen rather than an exploration of his inner motivations and inner demons.

Then again, that’s just fine. As bad thing after bad thing happens to Kelly, MacKay digs deeper into the role, immersing himself so physically and otherwise he’s nearly unrecognizable by the end. Coupled with Kurzel’s capabilities as a director—the movie looks fantastic and pulses in a way few have this year—True Story of the Kelly Gang proves to be one of the most rewarding experiences in recent months, even casting the state of 2020 cinema aside.

Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.

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