LEGEND OF BEN HALL, THE
In the mid 1800s, after two years on the road, outlaw bushranger Ben Hall (Jack Martin) has gone into hiding. He's drawn back into his criminal ways by the reappearance of his old friend and partner-in-crime, John Gilbert (Jamie Coffa). Reforming the gang, and drafting in skilled horseman John Dunn (William Lee), the three soon become the most wanted men in Australia's young history after the killing of two policemen during a violent shootout. When the authorities move to declare them outlaws, the gang make desperate plans to flee the country, only to be sold out by a trusted friend. (Based on a trues story.)
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
Ned Kelly was just 11 years old when Ben Hall was shot to death (at age 27) by a troop of police at Goobang Creek in the NSW countryside. Both men - to varying degrees of infamy - have left a legacy of bushranger heroics that are embedded in Australia's folk history. Ned Kelly has attracted the greater degree of hero worship, and the rebellious spirit that goes with it. This film attempts to balance the bushranger books and deconstructs the myth of Ben Hall as a mild mannered highway robber. He never killed anyone.
It was the timing and nature of his killing that caused much controversy, which has echoes throughout time in Australia's memory. The police claimed they were justified in shooting him (30 bullet wounds), unarmed as he was, because the new act of Parliament allowed any bushranger to be shot by anyone without warning. It was a desperate measure triggered by Hall's audacious activities; hundreds of robberies. But the law had not yet come into effect.
Well, it's an ambitious and worthy project, worthy that is, of our attention. It seems to be meticulously faithful to history, which partly explains its longish running time, and the raw materials are such that it makes solid drama. It is a film of both action and of character. Not just Ben Hall's character, either, but several of the people around him, notably the wild card John Gilbert, delivered in a sizzling and edgy performance by Jamie Coffa. He was Ben Hall's offsider, and sometimes he was off side with Ben Hall as well. William Lee has the thankless role of the young newcomer to the gang, John Dunn. His low key performance should not be underestimated. And the women are all exceptional, touching, haunting.
Writer/director Matthew Holmes steers and controls the film's tone with a single minded focus that serves the film well, appealing to the serious historian and invested film lover. Every aspect of the story - from the crimes to the romances - is managed with sensitivity and dedication. I might have preferred a tad more pace, but perhaps that's just impatience....
Peter Szilveszter's cinematography is both functional and beautiful; some of the images of the landscape are astonishing. The close ups are powerful. Ronnie Minder's score is often bold and always interesting, while design elements (especially the costumes) are tactile and authentic. This is a serious film that explores the psyche that underpins some of the Australian cultural heritage that is slowly sinking out of sight.
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LEGEND OF BEN HALL, THE (M)
CAST: Jack Martin, Jamie Coffa, William Lee, Joanne Dobbin, Callan McAuliffe, Ben Chisholm, Jana Wilkes, John Orcsik, Bailey Barbour, Brenton Foale, Cris Cochrance
PRODUCER: Russell Cunningham, Michael Favelle, Matthew Holmes, Jessica Pearce
DIRECTOR: Matthew Holmes
SCRIPT: Matthew Holmes
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Peter Szilveszter
EDITOR: Caitlin Spiller
MUSIC: Ronnie Minder
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Das Patterson
RUNNING TIME: 134 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Pinnacle Films
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: December 1, 2016