(2003)3Derek ArmstrongThere's revisionist history, and then there's Gregor Jordan's Ned Kelly. Kelly -- Australian folklore's answer to Jesse James, but with a clearer conscience -- may not be much known to American audiences, for whom this film was probably intended. But that doesn't mean liberties of the highest order should be taken with the man's life, which is what Jordan and screenwriter John Michael McDonagh are guilty of. The iconic image of Kelly -- as much as there is one -- features a lone warrior decked out in full body armor, with only a horizontal opening at eye level, shooting it out with an enormous posse of corrupt police officers. But in Jordan's film, Kelly's entire gang is outfitted in the mythic battle gear -- gear that Kelly, quite famously, wore only himself. The film also invents certain key characters, such as a prim British love interest (Naomi Watts), as though the actual facts of Kelly's life were little more than raw materials. But enumerating the film's inaccuracies may not be the most useful critical approach for the average filmgoer, who's more interested in whether Heath Ledger and Orlando Bloom make strapping and likable outback outlaws. The verdict here is also grim, in part because McDonagh offers too little of their backstory, too little of the systemic prejudices and conspiracies that forced them to defend themselves and others against government injustice, sometimes leading to bloodshed. Instead, the film spends too much time painting Bloom's Joe Byrne as a rakish lout, and Ledger as a generic blue-collar hero given to gruffly inspirational speechifying, which seems vaguely ridiculous without better context. The second attempt to tell this story, following a disappointing 1970 version starring Mick Jagger, Ned Kelly confirms that it may be awhile before Australia's most complicated hero gets effectively exported to the world.
Gregor Jordan's version of the Australian legend Ned Kelly stars Heath Ledger as the title outlaw. Sixteen-year-old Irish immigrant Ned is sentenced to three years in prison for stealing a horse. After his release he finds work tending to horses owned by Richard Cook (Nicholas Bell), whose wife (Naomi Watts) grows interested in Ned. Fitzpatrick (Kiri Paramore) is a police officer with a yen for Ned's sister, Kate (Kerry Condon). When she rejects him, Fitzpatrick steals the family's animals. The brothers are falsely accused of a crime and go into hiding, leading to the assault and arrest of their beloved mother. Francis Hare (Geoffrey Rush) is eventually brought on to stop the gang, which becomes famous after a string of bank robberies. The film also features Orlando Bloom (of Lord of the Rings fame) and Rachel Griffiths (Six Feet Under). The most recent version of this oft-filmed tale featured Mick Jagger as the infamous Kelly in 1970.