Despite trying to keep his swashbuckling to a minimum, a threat to California's pending statehood causes the adventure-loving Alejandro de la Vega (Banderas) -- and his wife, Elena (Zeta-Jones) -- to take action.
Though recognized for heroism as a lad, Ned Kelly can not escape the stigma of being the eldest of a brood sired by a known criminal. In days when an arrest equaled guilt and a conviction, his unfair imprisonment for horse thievery puts him steadfast, in the eyes of Victorian police, on the wrong side of things for life. With a sister unable to dissuade the unwanted advances of Constable Fitzpatrick, Ned, his brother Dan, and friends Joe Byrne and Steve Hart soon find themselves labeled "an outlaw gang" by the less-than-honorable constable. It's a designation they're apt to live up to after Ned's mother is unfairly arrested and sentenced to three years hard labor. In retaliation, the Kelly Gang strikes out against the oppressive Victorian government, with ultimately tragic results and passage into Australian folklore. Written by
The Sydney Morning Herald suggested that Heath Ledger was made for the role because when he tried on Ned Kelly's original iron armour, it fit perfectly. Heath Ledger was quoted saying, "It was quite eerie actually ... we're the same height and the same body weight. He was skinny 'cause he was starving, I'm skinny 'cause I don't go to the gym." See more »
All of Kelly's gang are shown wearing both front and rear armor. In reality, only Kelly had front and back plates, the others only had front plates. See more »
I was the hero of Hughes Creek. I can still see the glint in me Da's eye as he looked down at me, his hand on me shoulder. What did he call me that day? Ah, what did Da call me? That's right. He called me Sunshine.
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"Ned Kelly" is a straight-forward re-telling of the legendary Australian who has a powerful symbolism as both an outlaw and a revolutionary.
It is not based on the award-winning novel by Peter Carey, "True History of the Ned Kelly Gang," because the rights to that were taken by the Irish Neil Jordan to the consternation of nationalists who rallied around this adaptation of Robert Drewe's "Our Sunshine." But, oddly, though Drewe is listed as a co-producer, this chronological narrative by first-timer John M. McDonagh flattens out the power of the novella's focus on the final three-days' battle that's as important to Australia as "Remember the Alamo!" is to Texans.
Director Gregor Jordan particularly undercuts the core of Kelly's transformation in the public imagination from petty criminal to charismatic Robin Hood to uprising leader against injustice by barely letting Heath Ledger dictate a few lines of the so-called 'Jerilderie Letter' perhaps because it is the powerful centerpiece of the voice of the Carey book. Ledger's basso voice-over connectors do resonate.
Jordan opts for portends of the key confrontation that will only be caught by those familiar with the legend -- Kelly idly looking through an illustrated book about body armor, the loading up of the infamous train that will carry the police to the attack, and Geoffrey Rush replaying his Inspector Javert, but with only implications of a "Les Miserables" back story.
Jordan presides over an excellent recreation of the milieu of the time. There's a strong visual evocation in the art and set direction of time, place, and geography, especially with Oliver Stapleton's beautiful cinematography. The social class differences between descendants of POMmies (Prisoners of his Majesty) and their British overlords, are documented starkly, particularly in carrying over the Irish vs. British conflict to another continent (though the bland music score misses a real opportunity to illustrate that, with only a couple of traditional Celtic songs literally stuck in).
Non-Aussie Orlando Bloom makes quite a dashing Joe Byrne, Kelly's best friend, attracting Rachel Griffiths in a somewhat silly cameo, and many other recognizable Australian actors pass through.
Unfortunately, Naomi Watts and Ledger can be added to the lengthy list of real-life lovers who evince little reel chemistry -- did that only work to our benefit for Bogart/Bacall and Tracy/Hepburn?
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