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Kelly a punk rock take on Aussie history

True History of the Kelly Gang

IFC Films

Directed by Justin Kurzel

Starring George MacKay, Orlando Schwerdt, Russell Crowe, Nicholas Hoult, Charlie Hunnam and Essie Davis

Rated R

3 Stars

I don’t know enough about Australian history to judge the veracity of the new Ned Kelly film, given the dubious title of True History of the Kelly Gang.

I can only tell you that the film crackles with energy. It’s a punk rock take on history that is a lot of fun to watch, even if it admits at the beginning that it’s playing fast and loose with the facts.

For those who don’t know, Ned Kelly was a notorious outlaw/folk hero in Australia’s early years. This latest film, based on Peter Carey’s Booker Prize-winning novel, introduces us to Ned as a young lad (played by Orlando Schwerdt). He embarks on his life of crime when his mother (Essie Davis) sells him to a bushranger (Russell Crowe).

Ned grows up into an enterprising young man (now played by George MacKay). We see him gather his gang of notorious outback bandits and then set off on a crime spree that is part Paul Bunyan, part Robin Hood, and all anti-establishment Australian folklore.

We’ve seen this biography many times before, once with Mick Jagger in the lead role and most recently in the 2003 film that starred Heath Ledger. The difference this time around can be found in the gonzo acting performances and the in-your-face direction by Justin Kurzel.

MacKay shines as Kelly, with a charismatic performance that is an absolute hoot. He’s an odd duck outlaw and you can’t take your eyes off of him lest he surprise you with his 19th century’s version of ultra-violence. Not to be outdone, we get Davis channeling Lady Macbeth and Russell Crowe, who is obviously having a blast playing an outlaw who is a far cry from any character he ever played in his Hollywood films.

Credit Kurzel for his film that gleefully revels in its punk rock sensibilities. This is perhaps best exemplified by the Kelly gang outlaws who don dresses just because they know it will freak out the town folks. This is a film that’s all energy and anti-establishment fun.

I’m a bit torn on the film’s violent moments. Some of them are shot with a visual flair that reminds me of Sam Peckinpaw’s best work. It can be quite thrilling, but there’s no denying that the film’s embrace of violence is also a bit disturbing at times. I’ll let you decide if the film’s violence outweighs it’s gonzo charms. For my part, I found True Story of the Kelly Gang to be a bold and very entertaining take on this oft-told story.

 

True Story of the Kelly Gang is available to stream online on Friday, April 24th.

Movie reviews by Sean, “The Movie Guy,” are published each week in The Port Arthur News and seen weekly on KFDM and Fox4. Sean welcomes your comments via email at smcbride@sbgtv.com.