out of Five
Running time: 110
Watchable drama, featuring strong support from Bloom and Watts but let down by Ledger’s lack of charisma in the lead role.
Australian director Gregor Jordan’s Ned Kelly is the second of his films to be released in as many months, thanks to the delayed release of Buffalo Soldiers. Ned Kelly is a pretty straightforward re-telling of the legendary tale and while it’s watchable enough, it’s ultimately let down by Heath Ledger’s charisma-free performance in the lead.
The film is set in Australia in the 1880s. Picked on by the local police, first generation Irish immigrant Ned Kelly (Heath Ledger) is imprisoned on a trumped-up charge of horse theft. Getting out of jail, he vows to go straight and he gets a job on the estate of an English landowner, where he falls for the landowner’s pretty young wife (Naomi Watts).
However, the authorities continue to harass Ned and when a police officer assaults his sister Kate, Ned and his mother are charged with attempted murder. Angry and desperate, he goes on the run and forms a gang with his younger brother (Laurence Kinlan) and his best friends, Steve Hart (Philip Barantini) and the womanising Joe Byrne (Orlando Bloom).
Initially, the gang become Robin Hood-like heroes, robbing banks and out-witting the police but when the authorities bring in an army of police, led by dogged Superintendent Hare (Geoffrey Rush), the stage is set for a climactic showdown…
Some Embarrassingly Bad Performances
Ned Kelly is worth seeing for the support performances by Orlando Bloom and Naomi Watts (who makes the most of her relatively small role with a strong, sexy, performance) and the direction of the legendary final shoot-out at the Inn at Glenrowan (the image of an armour-plated Ned is a striking one).
However, having said that, there are also some embarrassingly bad
performances, not just Ledger himself (who actually looks painfully
constipated during some of his Rousing Big Speech scenes) but also the
normally reliable Rachel Griffiths, who delivers perhaps the most
embarrassing Scottish accent ever committed to celluloid (though the scene itself is amusing).
As for Rush, it’s difficult to say, as he’s hardly in it, despite prominent billing – as a result, you spend much of the movie waiting for him to turn up and when he does, it’s a bit of a disappointment.
As if that wasn’t bad enough, there’s an awful lot of ‘Oirishness’ that
would put Joel Schumacher to shame, as well as some laughably heavy-handed animal symbolism (Look! A lion in a cage! And now it's dead! Etc). It also seems faintly disturbing that Ledger should have made two films in a row (this and Four Feathers) where his character is required to drink the blood of a live animal. One shudders to think of his contract…
In short, Ned Kelly is by no means a disaster but the miscasting of Ledger prevents it from being the film it could have been. Watchable, but disappointing.