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Son of poor Irish immigrants, the 16 year old Ned Kelly (Heath Ledger) is wrongly accused of horse stealing and sent to prison. On his release four years later, Ned vows to avoid further trouble, but trouble doesnít make the same vow. When a policeman gets too pushy with Nedís sister Kate (Kerry Condon) in the Kelly shack, thereís a scuffle and Ned and his mother (Kris McQuade) are charged with attempted murder. His mother is jailed but Ned goes on the run and becomes determined to strike back at the brutish and unjust system. The Kelly gang is formed, with his brother Dan (Laurence Kinlan) and two close friends, Steve Hart (Philip Barantini) and Joe Byrne (Orlando Bloom). The reward for his capture eventually rises to a massive 8000 pounds and the feared Superintendent Hare (Geoffrey Rush) is brought in to hunt the gang down with a hundred men. They find Ned and his gang at the rickety inn at Glenrowan.†

Review by Andrew L. Urban:
Itís not what you might expect. Indeed, maybe this film should have been titled ĎNed Kelly Ė The Hypotheticalí being based on Robert Drewís book of Ned Kellyís imagined internal monologues and memoirs adapted for the screen and drawing on some of the known facts of history. But of course recorded history itself is often unreliable or insufficient in the detail, so we should approach this Ned Kelly with a degree of caution as a document of history. Yet it will still be seen by many as the definitive account of not only what happened but how and why it happened, by the sheer force of its cinematic language and the sombre tone. The picture that emerges from this presentation of Ned Kelly is a Victorian police force that is as amoral as it is vicious and largely to blame for Nedís life of crime. As a result, itís his nobler side that is emphasised and we are drawn into the circle of sympathy for him, his family and his friends. Historical and biographical elements aside, the film gives Heath Ledger a terrific vehicle, and Ledger relishes it, creating a strong, silent type of Ned full of inner anguish, and a desperation born of circumstance. Several times he tries in vain to avoid killing police who are hunting them, and expressing his regret when he does. These are crucial details on which the film rests its moral case. He is a tragic hero figure, but a hero figure all the same and Ledger makes a great impression, a real lasting image, as Ned Kelly, and yes, he may well be the metaphorical sunshine in this overcast, muddy and forlorn vision of 1870s/ 80s Australia, as brown as dark potatoes, as murky as the hearts of the men who found themselves in this conflicted time. It looks more like their ancestral Ireland than the Australia of famed blue skies. Gregor Jordan gambles the film on Ned Kellyís legend reaching out to us and highlighting this heroic figure, a proud young man from the underclass of a new society who was as unfortunate as he was determined. Jordanís gamble extends to Heath Ledger making Kelly not only a real but a compelling character. Ledger delivers Ė hypothetically speaking, of course: we do come to understand his motives, and thatís the all-important context. And I say gamble because Jordan has avoided the histrionics that might have made the film more populist, perhaps more hyper-sensational. Jordan has given us a portrait of Ned Kelly as a political militant. Just look at the poster. No, this Ned Kelly is not a larrikin; if he were, it may be an easier film to market to mainstream audiences: itís certainly not a date movie or some sort of rollicking period adventure. Itís a serious attempt at understanding the man and his times, and why over 32,000 people signed a petition asking for Nedís hanging to be commuted, despite his trail of bank robberies and killings. The story touches on the very roots of Australian pioneering society and should trigger a robust debate about the man, the myth and the movie.

The DVD extras provide only a historical backdrop, with the 13 minute Ned Kelly in Popular Culture setting Kelly in historical as well as cinematic context, narrated by Charles ĎBudí Tingwell. There are a couple of clips from the much maligned Ned Kelly feature starring Mick Jagger, which is also available on DVD and makes a useful companion piece to this new (and hardly the last) movie about Ned.

Photos of the real Kelly gang and the clumsily named Artist to Feature Comparison are disappointing and of marginal interest. The Kelly gang photos are poor quality and the Comparison photos are a bit meaningless.†

Considering everything Ė such as the iconic stature of Ned Kelly in Australian folklore, the filmís scope and the possibilities of DVD Ė this is a poor manís release. Buy it for the film, by all means, but we wish the opportunity had been taken to do much, much more.†

Published August 21, 2003

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CAST: Heath Ledger, Orlando Bloom, Naomi Watts, Joel Edgerton, Laurence Kinlan, Philip Barantini, Kerry Condon, Kris McQuade and Geoffrey Rush

DIRECTOR: Gregor Jordan

SCRIPT: John Michael McDonagh (novel Our Sunshine by Robert Drewe)

RUNNING TIME: 105 minutes (ftr only)

PRESENTATION: 2.35:1; DD 5.1; DTS 5.1

SPECIAL FEATURES: Ned Kelly in Popular Culture; photos of the real Kelly Gang; photos of artistís conception of sets and costumes; trailers, posters; competition for $20,000


DVD RELEASE: August 20, 2003

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