True History of the Kelly Gang
Starring George Mackay, Russell Crowe, Charlie Hunnam, Nicholas Hoult,
You might have seen the disappointing 2003 flick “Ned Kelly” that’s more historically based. Even though “True History of the Kelly Gang” is far more fictionalized, it is also far more compelling. For the first two acts director Justin Kurzel (“Macbeth“) takes the audience on an unexpected visual journey that takes doesn’t follow any recognizable narrative structure. His visual style is beautifully cruel from the choices in landscapes to the de-saturated color patterns. “True History of the Kelly Gang” almost feels like someone took ideas from a Tim Burton film and drained the life from them. The visual style bridges the gap when the film falters, but that only works until we get to the violent third act, where thing unravels. Russell Crowe’s stout comedy in a handful of early scenes remains memorable throughout, however.
Outside the realm of society, in the outback of rugged Australia, Edward Kelly had a warped youth. He couldn’t understand why his father rode a horse wearing women’s clothes, or his mother (Davis) put food on the table only after strange men had spent time with her. It’s 1867 and young Ned, as he’s called, is the man of the house. His mother sends him to learn from the infamous Harry Power (Crowe), the first man to introduce him to violence and thieving. When he returns home a man, much has changed, including his siblings who now make their living stealing from others. “Nothing scares a man like crazy,” becomes the Kelly Gang motto. Circumstance and family tradition propel Ned to become Australia’s most feared and wanted man.
"It’s a raw and fictional dramatization that’s as unpredictable as it is unsettling."
This is one of the most twisted coming-of-age stories you’re ever likely to see, told through scenes of violence and desperation. There are no protagonists in Shaun Grant’s screenplay loosely based on Peter Carey’s novel. It’s a raw and fictional dramatization that’s as unpredictable as it is unsettling. From men wearing dresses, which is later explained, the homoerotic undertones that begin subtle turn into fully expressed notions. Male nudity is present throughout the gritty and muck ridden flick. You see more of Nicholas Hoult here than ever before. Following his stint as a villain in “The Favourite,” the “X-Men” actor goes to his darkest place yet. Davis (Game of Thrones, “Babadook“) is the fierce matriarch of the gang and has more screen time than any other actor.
The style of the film ends up being far more compelling than the downfall of the characters. Kurzel offers the viewer something truly stunning with the choices he makes which could have ended before The Kelly Gang we know from history actually emerges on the screen. MacKay looks the part of Ned Kelly with his underweight frame, and he nails the crazy eyes of a madman. The entire cast work in unison to provide the viewer with an unsettling experience. Jed Kurzel’s score adds great depth to the unique images, which combined with the voiceover, feels periodically like it was inspired by “The Assassination of Jesse James” by the Coward Robert Ford. Sadly, ‘True History’ ends up more of a stunning collection of nightmarish scenes than a complete project. A problem Kurzel continues to have on all his films, they are always almost really good.
Visual style and peculiar narrative choices are greater than the sum of the film's parts.