Movie: Ned Kelly (2003)
Method: Netflix DVD
|The only magic trick here is how my pants disappeared so fast|
Why Did I watch this?
This is another one of those old films that has been burning a hole in my queue forever. January 15th, 2010! I think I had jumped on this after we all re-appraised Heath Ledger after The Dark Knight (2008). I know, I know, that re-appraisal should have come after Brokeback Mountain (2005), but in my misguided youth I didn't see that movie for how great it was. Anyway, suddenly there was this dude who had passed away who might have been a greater actor than we all though, since we were really just stuck on 10 Things I Hate About You (1999) and A Knight's Tale (2001). I was a big fan of Brothers Grimm (2005) though, that was really my personal Ledger access point...
Anyway, Ned Kelly was praised as one great example of his rise to acting and it had always caught my eye. I also was just in Ireland that had some bits about him and was also reading about Australian history for some reason. Anyway, this is one of those films that had always jumped out at me.
What Did I know ahead of time?
Have you been following this whole series? I didn't know shit about this. I was like, Ned Kelly is Australian, right? Or is he Irish? Is he Irish-Australian? I was excited to see Orlando Bloom and Joel Edgerton pop up. Joel Edgerton is secretly in like, every bad early 2000s movies until he became a respected actor. And he's not bad in this, either. But I knew this was a Heath Ledger prestige attempt about the Ned Kelly Gang, which is some old gang that did something somewhere. I know, dear reader, I can't believe I run a film blog, either.
How Was It?
This is not a good movie. I mean...it's FINE. It largely feels flat and unmotivated, with really standard shot composition throughout and a score that sounds generic for a period biopic and doesn't really vary throughout the whole picture. Maybe I would have clued in if I knew more or was into the Legend of Ned Kelly in anyway, but for just some dude with no connection to apparently one of the most famous Australians of all time, I entered it not knowing what to expect and just watched the film teeter and stumble into its main story for about the first thirty aimless minutes, and then keep charging from there without much to explore with character depth or development. Then he dies and it just sort of ends.
I really think there could have been something cool here. Kelly was larger than life, and his final stand wearing literal homemade armour is intriguing and awesome. It's treated weirdly matter-of-fact here. With some pizzazz or stylized action, humor, or dynamic or creative camera, this could have stood out. It's tough to watch this right after RRR (2022), which also features revolutionaries unknown to me, but elevates that material into the stratosphere.
It's just boring. I'm not sure if they tried to stick too close to actual history, it seems like it. But there are a lot of characters who come in and out for long stretches, and it's tough to have anyone to latch on to. Kerry Condon and Naomi Watts are pretty thankless and could have been much more interesting Same with pretty much everyone else who isn't Heath Ledger. The cast includes the aforementioned Bloom and Edgerton, but also Geoffrey Rush, who snarls here, but is never a really pervasive threat, mostly because he enters the picture with about thirty minutes to go. We just don't really see the stakes or the set-ups and pay-offs that makes movies engaging.
But we should talk about Heath. He totally commands this movie. This dude had insane range. I was thinking more about the mid-2000s heartthrobs that he would share his films with. Bale, Gyllenhaal, Farrell, Depp, Law, Bloom, Edgerton, Clive Owen. Many of these have obviously gone on to great success, but looking back, it really does feel like Ledger was the best of them. Maybe that's in hindsight and an overexultion of the deceased, but he just feels like their king. Like he emerges as the most interesting and most dominant of all of them. I'm curious where he would have ended up these days. MCU? I know his Joker is his biggest role but that hasn't stopped others like Bale, Affleck, and Reynolds from playing multiple heroes across properties.
I always like to point out how Terry Gilliam replaced Ledger in The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus (2009) with Farrell, Depp, and Jude Law, and all three of those actors have appeared in the Fantastic Beasts franchise, with the former two also playing the same character. Maybe that's where Ledger would have ended up - Grindelwald instead of Mads Mikkelsen in the latest movie...
Anyway, he's great in Ned Kelly, he has charm (although the film doesn't let him show it off enough), masculine dominance while also chastising his brothers for not doing enough housework, and a presence that commands everyone else in the film. It's really a great showcase for him. Unfortunately it's just so boring. I feel like the low budget shines through, there aren't really a ton of dynamic action scenes, more often just talking, hiding, or posturing.
I clearly didn't enjoy this. It was fun to see Orlando Bloom, too, although he's far better when he doesn't have to act. This came out four months before Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl (2003), which also featured Geoffrey Rush! Bloom was already known as Legolas, but it's amazing how he crushed these monster franchises and hasn't really done much since. Is he just a pretty face with an old school swashbuckler sensibility?! Ned Kelly would suggest...yes. Yes he is.
This really has a great premise and the historical figure has been subject of many films over the years. I haven't seen them, but I'm curious what a more creative and dynamic director would do with this material that's become a national symbol of Australia. I did like the repeated references to wombats.