Combustible Celluloid
 
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With: George Mackay, Essie Davis, Nicholas Hoult, Orlando Schwerdt, Charlie Hunnam, Russell Crowe, Thomasin McKenzie , Sean Keenan, Earl Cave, Marlon Williams, Louis Hewison
Written by: Shaun Grant, based on a novel by Peter Carey
Directed by: Justin Kurzel
MPAA Rating: R for strong violence throughout, bloody images, pervasive language, sexual content and some nudity
Running Time: 124
Date: 04/24/2020
IMDB

True History of the Kelly Gang (2020)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Ned End

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

True History of the Kelly Gang is the third movie in the modern era to take on the story of the notorious Australian outlaw Ned Kelly, who was captured and hung in 1880 at the age of 25. It's also, by far, the best of the three. In 1970, Mick Jagger portrayed Kelly in a flop movie that was universally loathed. In 2003, Heath Ledger played him in a movie that was too dull even to be worth loathing.

Adapted from a novel by Peter Carey, this insane, far-from-dull movie begins with a 12 year-old Ned (Orlando Schwerdt) living out a most terrible childhood, watching his mother (Essie Davis, The Babadook) sell sexual favors to men like the vile, English Sgt. O'Neil (Charlie Hunnam). On a good day, Ned feeds his family by dragging home a bloody cow leg. After the death of his father, his mother sells him to educated outlaw Harry Power (Russell Crowe), with whom Ned learns how to shoot and steal. Ned grows up into George MacKay (1917), who performs half his scenes shirtless, all muscle and sinew, and a most unfortunate haircut.

He returns home to find his mother about to marry another awful man, and falls for prostitute Mary Hearn (Thomasin McKenzie). Unfortunately, Mary already has a child with Ned's future father-in-law. Even worse, Ned clashes with Constable Fitzpatrick (Nicholas Hoult), who is so evil he holds a gun to a baby's head in one scene. After that, Ned grabs his brother and two friends, including Joe Byrne (Sean Keenan), with whom he has a quasi-erotic relationship, they all don dresses (to make their enemies think they're crazy), and begin robbing and killing. The final showdown features Ned inside a bulletproof metal suit, while a row of white-clad figures fires at him from a dark horizon (they are seen through the small, wide slit in Ned's helmet), the entire scene lit by strobe lights!

Australian director Justin Kurzel (Macbeth, Assassin's Creed) keeps the strangeness coming, playing around with taboos and sexualizing everything, even as he tamps down the thrills of Ned's gory escapades, instead focusing on doom. To be sure, "True History of the Kelly Gang" isn't exactly designed as an energizing adventure, and when it does move, it's brutal. But it's certainly something to see.

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