first, i would like to say what a good book The True History of the Kelly Gang by peter carey is. thoughtful, interesting, with characters that are never two dimensional, either as villains or good guys. the land is dry, hard, unforgiving: the kind of Australian outback that i myself am familiar with. and better yet, its theme, under carey's fine skills, is that society made ned kelly. that he was not a criminal born or a revolutionary in the dull, grinding little towns of outback victoria; ned kelly, the bushranger, the criminal, was made. made when his mother apprenticed him to harry power at the age of thirteen, made when he did time, when the fact was that there was nothing in the hopes and dreams of ned kelly and his family except to eek out a poor, unhappy life. a life where the ties of family were everything, and where, when a hard, irish mother was sent to prison, her eldest son would fall back on his bushrangering to force the government to release her.
The True History of the Kelly Gang won a booker, the second for carey, and while awards don't mean much in the scheme of things, and don't even ensure the quality of a book, you can at least look at that and think, well, there must be something in that book about ned kelly that's thoughtful, coherent, and interesting.
Ned Kelly, based on a novel by robert drewe, is not thoughtful, coherent, and only occasionally interesting.
it has many scenes that don't make sense, such as when kelly himself is shot down by the police and then wakes up, in the morning, behind the police, to witness them burning out the glenrowan hotel. how did kelly end up there? did this big man in iron armour just slip past when no one was watching? did he crawl? and why is it no one noticed him until the morning?!
there are more scenes like this. the inclusion of a circus in the final shoot out seems to serve the point of only bringing in a lion to kill as a visual metaphor. (a monkey dies as well, for those who like to keep track of these things. there are a couple of dead horses too.) then there is the mind boggling opening of kelly getting onto a horse that's just standing in the outback (obviously run from its own) and which he rides back into town as if it were his own with a girl on the back.
and of course, then there is heath ledger. good ol'heath looks as if he is suffering from the most severe case constipation that a film has ever seen. which is a shame, because he has a sort of charisma in him, until they give you a side shot he looks as if he is in pain.
the only redeeming feature of this film is how it looks. it looks beautiful, in a dirty, hard, dry bush land way. and while this is throughout the entire film, it's not enough to stop you from asking the simple questions that whoever is responsible for the script should have asked him or herself about while writing it.
but then, as the last words of kelly were before he was hung, 'such is life.'
though of course, they don't hang him in the film.