Ned Kelly (2003) from Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski)

Ned Kelly was the highest grossing Australian film at the Aussie box office in 2003. It is the latest of many films which have been based on the "true" Ned Kelly story, which is something of a national quasi-epic in Oz. Ned's life was first made into a film shortly after the turn of the century, when some of the principals were still alive. Some years ago, the tale was filmed with Mick Jagger in the title role! This latest version of the story is based on a novel called "Our Sunshine" by Robert Drewe.

The core may be based on a true story, but the tale is told here mixed with more than a bit of legend. If you aren't familiar with the yarn, Mr. Kelly was the Aussie equivalent of Jesse James, or at least the Jesse James of folk legend, an honest man first turned into an outlaw by the corrupt bullies who passed as policemen in the 1870s, and then elevated to a folk hero by journalists and word-of-mouth.


One women is seen naked, breasts and pubes, when the police surprise her in bed with Joel Edgerton. If I have read the credits correctly, it is Thea Gumbert, but I'm not sure.

Eventually forced into a fugitive life, Ned and his gang started robbing banks, all the while burning the mortgages of his family and friends, and returning almost all of the stolen money to poor people. While he was at it, he killed more than his share of corrupt cops, turned all the local ladies into his gang's groupies, and became an ad hoc social revolutionary. As you can surely guess from that description, the story appears to be highly embellished, but the real Ned Kelly was larger than life himself. Although incapable of writing, Ned once dictated a remarkably eloquent and now famous 56 page letter to the Australian authorities, which is still preserved, and is quoted liberally in the film. describes Ned Kelly as follows:

Making no attempt at factual accuracy, Ned Kelly is still an engaging action film with its heart in the right place. You don't need to be a student of Australian history to know that a movie about the life of the notorious folk hero and outlaw is not going to be a light-hearted romp through the outback. Injustice, persecution, and unlawful imprisonment are the meat of his story, all presented here with not too much of a rose-tinted perspective amid generous doses of obligatory action.

True or not, it's a helluva good yarn. The climax to the story, which is more or less historical, could not be much more cinematic. Ned and his gang were holed up in a village pub with the locals and a traveling circus, when they were surrounded by about a hundred policemen. The policemen started firing away without regard to the lives of the innocent bystanders, which included women and children. Emerging from the pub through the haze of chaotic gunfire, with the reports of firearms punctuated by the anguished cries of women and the roars of exotic animals, Ned and his men fought back by walking out in the open, blasting away, clad in home-made body armor, and looking for all the world like the legendary medieval "knights in shining armor". Amazingly, Ned survived the gun battle, and lived just long enough to be hanged at age 25, despite petitions for his pardon signed by 32,000 people.

The film seems to star just about every major Australian film star except Nicole Kidman. The capable cast includes Naomi Watts, Geoffrey Rush, Heath Ledger, and Rachel Griffiths. The director, Gregor Jordan, is also Australian.

DVD info from Amazon

  • "Ned Kelly in Popular Culture" featurette

  • still photographs of the real Kelly Gang

  • Artist to feature comparison

  • Widescreen anamorphic format

If you've seen the best American Westerns about Billy the Kid or the James Gang, you can probably mouth a lot of the dialogue along with this one (provided you can muster the Irish brogue, of course). But if you enjoy that kind of story, the Ned Kelly legend includes a lot of great details absent from the American Westerns - especially the final shoot-out with the medieval armor and the circus animals! I believe that this film makes up for its stiff direction and lack of originality with a lot of heart, lots of Australian flavor, some slick photography, and a charismatic cast (which also includes a non-Australian rising star in the popular Orlando Bloom).

The Critics Vote ...

  • It was nominated for nine awards by the Aussie academy, winning two for design of production and costumes.

  • British consensus: Mail 4/10, Telegraph 6/10, Independent 4/10, Guardian 6/10, Times 4/10, Sun 7/10, Express 6/10, Mirror 6/10, BBC 3/5

The People Vote ...

  • It received no publicity and mini-arthouse distribution in the USA, ultimately grossing less than a hundred thousand dollars.
The meaning of the IMDb score: 7.5 usually indicates a level of excellence equivalent to about three and a half stars from the critics. 6.0 usually indicates lukewarm watchability, comparable to approximately two and a half stars from the critics. The fives are generally not worthwhile unless they are really your kind of material, equivalent to about a two star rating from the critics, or a C- from our system. Films rated below five are generally awful even if you like that kind of film - this score is roughly equivalent to one and a half stars from the critics or a D on our scale. (Possibly even less, depending on just how far below five the rating is.

My own guideline: A means the movie is so good it will appeal to you even if you hate the genre. B means the movie is not good enough to win you over if you hate the genre, but is good enough to do so if you have an open mind about this type of film. C means it will only appeal to genre addicts, and has no crossover appeal. (C+ means it has no crossover appeal, but will be considered excellent by genre fans, while C- indicates that it we found it to be a poor movie although genre addicts find it watchable). D means you'll hate it even if you like the genre. E means that you'll hate it even if you love the genre. F means that the film is not only unappealing across-the-board, but technically inept as well. Any film rated C- or better is recommended for fans of that type of film. Any film rated B- or better is recommended for just about anyone. We don't score films below C- that often, because we like movies and we think that most of them have at least a solid niche audience. Now that you know that, you should have serious reservations about any movie below C-.

Based on this description, this is a C. Not an inspired work of genius, but a pretty darned good watch. The basic plot is unoriginal, and will be routine for Western fans, but this film also has some unique Aussie plusses to make it more than just another Jessie James film.

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