Directed by Gregor Jordan, starring Heath Ledger, Orlando Bloom, Geoffrey Rush, Naomi Watts, Laurence Kinlan, Phil Barantini, Joel Edgerton, Kris McQuade.
Although directed by Gregor Jordan, who brought us the darkly funny 'Buffalo Soldiers' earlier this year, 'Ned Kelly' has none of that film's deftness of touch. A re-telling of the Australian outlaw's story with Heath Ledger in the role played by Mick Jagger in the 1970 version, 'Ned Kelly' takes the bones of reality but adds an overdose of romance and makes a right wombats soup out of the story.
Northwest Victoria, 1871: Ned Kelly (the only time Ledger appears looking anyway normal) clatters a policeman who has the temerity to accuse him of stealing a horse, earning himself the enmity of the local force and a lengthy stint in prison. After serving his time - and growing a ridiculous beard - he comes home to find his mother (a downtrodden-looking McQuade) and his numerous siblings being harassed by the police. It's not long until Kelly has shot four coppers, is on the run and has turned into an outlaw (with an even longer beard) and bank robber.
As far as scriptwriter John M McDonagh is concerned, Kelly's not bad so much as misunderstood. No common thief him, rather the Robin Hood of Australia, a man of principles who really wants the freedom of the people and, in a fictitious and harebrained sub-plot, the posh married Naomi Watts as his own Maid Marian.
Clunky and awkward, 'Ned Kelly' has the feel of a film edited in desperation in a last-ditch attempt to make the most of a good, though frequently wasted, cast. Despite the beards, there's plenty of top male totty. Ledger, with an unnecessary Irish accent, emotes beautifully as the petty criminal with a Jesus complex but Orlando Bloom, although he looks pretty, isn't entirely convincing as ladykiller Joe Byrne. Irish actor Laurence Kinlan acquits himself well as another member of the Kelly Gang. Geoffrey Rush, however, barely gets a handful of lines as Superintendent Hare, the policeman who masterminds the hunt for the outlaws.
Essentially an Australian western, 'Ned Kelly' is given a firm sense of place by the cinematography of acclaimed director of photography Oliver Stapleton, who captures the magnificent beauty of the Australian landscape and wildlife.
Although it has its moments, particularly during the Kelly Gang's final doomed stand, this is not the film that the Ned Kelly legend deserved.