"Nothing you’re about to see is true…"
Once in a while you come across a film that is all together odd, beautifully odd; yet it doesn’t quite hit that sweet spot. Quite like Burton’s Alice and Wonderland which frankly fell flat on its face despite its interesting take on Carroll’s characters or any of Terrence Malik’s later work – gorgeous imagery but what was the point? Director Justin Kurzel’s latest project, The Tales of the Kelly Gang unfortunately falls into that category. From the opening narration, this bold exploration of the tale of Ned Kelly and co, is certainly an acquired taste.
With so many representations of the chap, truth is neither here nor there, albeit this horse thieve and murderer’s story has many a seat shuffling moment, making you long for the scenes of a beautiful cross-dressing George Mckay, yes you heard correctly. We are presented with 3 neat parts here; the innocent child, a young adult and the birth of outlaw Ned Kelly. Of course, like any figure represented in history he is a product of his surroundings - the poverty, the sparse Australian outback, the horrific way women and humans in generally were treated and ultimately his lack of a stable father figure transforms this corrupt little boy into one hell of a fiery man.
As we are taken on a journey of betrayal, friendship and fighting for what you believe in, a Paul Greengrass shaky cam emerges alongside a booming punk soundtrack, bringing our protagonists rage and inner turmoil to our attention. The approach towards masculinity and status is spelt out for us, not to mention the bare knuckle boxing match opening scene – what can be manlier than that? The fact that this man puts his life on the line for his mother many a time, the mother that threw him into unthinkable situations for an under 10 year old speaks volumes. Yet, the venom this young man carries around with him, virtually eats him from the inside out and is the reason he can’t keep a friend and has so many enemies.
The supporting staff bring a lot to the table here and help this narrative get to its inevitable finale. Likes of Charlie Hunnam, Russell Crowe and Nick Hoult contribute in their own way to the young stubborn Ned played by Orlando Schwerdt and our grown up Mckay. Crowe’s Harry Power brings the primitive side of survival already drilled into this juvenile to the absolute top of this ready to erupt volcano. A strong sense of longing for peace, just for a split second consumes you as you watch everything go from bad to worse in a somewhat unrelenting manner. We know Kurzel does unrelenting, but one can only think this should have been more like Macbeth and less like Assassins Creed.
Despite Mckay’s fabulous portrayal of Kelly, the climax is underwhelming. It takes 45 minutes too long to get there and even the glorious image of 30 grown men in pastel lace dresses shouting like hooligans at a football match couldn’t save this one from the noose. If you want cross dressing killers and more than your fair dose of a naked Nick Hoult then this is the one for you – just beware how drawn out it is.