Though the mythology surrounding Ned Kelly is as important to Australians as that of Jesse James is to Americans, he's hardly a household name anywhere else, so producer-director Tony Richardson shrewdly gambled on casting rock star Mick Jagger to tell the story of the 19th century bushranger in this Down Under Western. Jagger adopts a convincingly sullen look for his role as an Irish lad whose grievances with the British landowners and lawmen turned him into a folk hero, but his line readings are stiff and unconvincing. In his second film role (following his closer-to-home turn in Performance), Mick just hasn't developed the acting chops to allow us to suspend our disbelief. And because the script don't do much to flesh out anyone else in the large cast of characters, he's is left to do most of the heavy lifting. There are some vigorously staged scenes, and a few of Shel Silverstein's ballads, including the wry "Blame It on the Kellys," offer astute commentary. And Kelly isn't portrayed as some sainted figure; he is clearly a ruffian with a chip on his shoulder, though it is well earned by the machinations the British villains put him and his family through. This is an interesting contrast with Sam Peckinpah's superior Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid, which overcomes the acting limitations of a musician lead (Kris Kristofferson) to offer a vigorous and affecting look at the making of a historical legend. Richardson can't finesse the same trick here.
by Tom Wiener review