From Sir Sydney Nolan’s epic paintings to Peter Carey’s Booker Prize-winning novel, Ned Kelly has come a long way to find himself thundering on horseback across a barren moonlit landscape, dressed only in boots and a flowing lace frock, in this dazzling postmodern version of the outlaw legend.
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Adapting Carey’s 2001 novel of the same name, director Justin Kurzel’s Ned Kelly (1917’s George MacKay as an adult) lives out his short but audacious life writ-large in punk graffiti scrawled across a canvas far bigger and more surreal than any other film or cultural to depiction to date.
Ned spends the film failing to win the love of his mother Ellen (Essie Davis, more complex and luminous than ever), who at one point sells the child to her sometime-lover and bushranger Harry Power (Russell Crowe) – a gesture one wonders might be as much to deflect Ned’s burgeoning Oedipal gaze as it is to earn a pretty coin. Ned finds some intermittent consolation in the arms of young sex worker Rose (Thomasin Harcourt McKenzie), a cynical soulmate of sorts, while we’re encouraged to deduce he also shares something deeper and more urgent than just fraternal bro-hood with his loyal friend and Kelly Gang member Joe Byrne (Sean Keenan). No putting this gang into any binary corner.
Kelly’s justified rage against the colonial constabulary, endowed with some disconcerting allure in Charlie Hunnam’s predatory Sgt O’Neil and the louche decadence of Nicolas Hoult’s Constable Fitzpatrick, fuels his rapid ascent to anti-heroic superstardom. This positions Ned as the more famous cousin of Clare, the vengeful protagonist of Jennifer Kent’s gut-wrenching The Nightingale (NZIFF19), while Kurzel adds here an Irish paean to the howl of rage which was Warwick Thornton’s unforgettable Sweet Country. — Marten Rabarts
This film contains strobe effects
About the Filmmaker
Justin Kurzel is an Australian director based in London. His debut film was the acclaimed, controversial Snowtown (NZIFF11). He has also directed adaptations of Macbeth (2015) and the popular video game series Assassin’s Creed (2016), both starring Michael Fassbender.