NED KELLY (rental)
When word of this movie first came out in America, it was to continue the Orlando Hype. His star was rising meteorically, and this movie was his first major role since that rise. His American fan base was being spoon-fed, and the movie (as well as Heath Ledger) were lost in the stream.
I, however, took more interest in the story of Ned Kelly than the stars of the film. I have a habit of reading the books behind films before their release, and with true stories I want to know the facts as much as the film version. For comparison, I suppose. It was a given that I would see this film (being a fangirl myself, plus bonus points for the Australian setting), and I just wanted to enrich the experience. I bought a book called True History of the Kelly Gang by Peter Carey, rather than the book on which the movie was based (Our Sunshine by Robert Drewe). It lay on the shelf for over a year. Same story, different film.
Without much knowledge of the man, I watched the film starring Ledger and Bloom. And I was entranced. Ned Kelly, the man, is as tortured, determined, passionate, as he is bent on revenge. And he’s completely justified in his actions. He’s loyal to those he cares about, fully hurt by betrayal of those who were once friends. And he’s fair. He fought as much for the welfare of his community, his neighbors, as he did for his own cause. He became a legend in Australia, and I immediately thought of Jesse James, who is an outlaw legend of the same scale in America (though James was a wicked man, and Kelly, by all accounts, was simply reactionary). By the end of the film, I wanted to read about Kelly, to get to know what Australians have come to revere.
The performances in Ned Kelly are fabulous. Heath Ledger gives the character an easy grace; he’s subtle and, thereby, charming. By contrast, Orlando Bloom had all the swagger. He was Joe Byrne, dashing ladies man who seemed to charm everyone he met. But he also had a wicked gleam in his eye. By the end of the story, when the Kelly Gang had survived near starvation, murder attempts by the police, and betrayal of a trusted friend — when any normal man would have been thoroughly crushed by the state of his life — Byrne (as played by Bloom) carried a devious, hardened glare. It sent shivers through me, and Bloom was enveloped by the character. By the end of the film, I wasn’t certain I actually liked Joe Byrne, though I know that I love Orlando. It was a hint of what Bloom can do with his talent.
The entire cast was enjoyable to watch. They just seemed real people rather than actors. I keep coming back to it, but the performances were just easy. Simple, unhurried portrals of historical figures. Even in his small role, Joel Edgerton shone. [see Joel Edgerton, Part Deux] My only complaint could be with Naomi Watts. There was no spark in her character, and I found it a glaring omission. Especially with her character being part of the story’s catalyst. I really expected more from her. Though the real-life romance between her and Ledger did come through from time to time… especially in their hands.
Ned Kelly is a terrific, and horrific, film. It’s not an Americanized Western-shoot-’em-up, but a tender and passionate story of a man who didn’t deserve his fate. It touched me like few movies of its type. And I look forward to learning more of the truth of it. I believe Ned Kelly will be a man I’ll come to know much about.