Title – The True History of the Kelly Gang (2019)
Director – Justin Kurzel (Assassin’s Creed)
Cast – George MacKay, Russell Crowe, Charlie Hunnam, Nicholas Hoult, Essie Davis, Thomasin McKenzie, Orlando Schwerdt
Plot – The (un)true story of infamous Australian outlaw Ned Kelly (Mackay and Schwerdt) who terrorised the outback in a bloodthirsty period of the late 1800’s.
“My dear child, I will write to you now so you don’t confuse fiction for fact”
Review by Eddie on 17/02/2020
Despite its title, don’t go into The True History of the Kelly Gang expecting some type of straightforward retelling of the famed Australian outlaw and his exploits, as Justin Kurzel’s colourful, bizarre and often off-putting experience is very far from a typical examination of a very well-known story.
I must admit to heading into True History with thoughts that I was finally going to see the quintessential Kelly feature film, after failed attempts with the likes of Mick Jagger and Heath Ledger failing to do justice to what is an incendiary and gripping story of a man’s quest to outlive and outsmart the law in the surrounds of the rugged Australian wilds of the late 1800’s.
What I was met with though very early on, was a disclaimer that nothing I was about to see is true and while there are certain aspects of Kurzel’s film that are indeed replications of Kelly’s life, for the majority of this adaptation of Peter Carey’s book that statement is correct, as we are given a punk rock like version of the Kelly exploits filled with modern day music, more drag dress ups than you remember being in the Kelly story files and some moody and atmospheric filming that is to be expected from the filmmaker responsible for Snowtown and Macbeth.
As a local Australian offering, True History certainly feels more epic and grand-scale than we expect thanks to a loaded cast of international and local stars such as Charlie Hunnam, Nicholas Hoult, Russell Crowe and rising star George MacKay, while the camera work of Ari Wegner and musical accompaniments of Justin’s brother Jed makes for a moody offering throughout but split into two distinct halves, True History remains a cold and unlikable affair that loses whatever momentum in had in its first half by the time the latter stages of Kelly’s life take hold.
Starting out unpleasantly but realistically with its focus aimed squarely at Orlando Schwerdt’s child version of Kelly as he lives a hapless life with struggling mother Ellen (played by Babadook MVP Essie Davis) and under the tutelage of Crowe’s no good Harry Power, True History is an odd offering from the moment it first begins but thanks to some great performance work it holds our attention but once the film shifts to MacKay’s older Kelly as he rounds up a group of no-hopers to take on the law, things go downhill very fast.
It’s not so much a performance problem as one that can be aimed at Kurzel and his screenwriter Shaun Grant, who veer so far from the reality of the real Kelly story that it makes the latter half of this grimy and grungy offering hard to enjoy in anyway as you begin to wish more often than not that we were getting a more straightforward film with all the same artistic sensibilities.
There’s credit to be paid to Kurzel and his creative team who have gone out of their way to create a unique and original offering, but that credit only gets them so far when you can’t help but feel True History is a giant waste of talent, narrative and opportunity.
Final Say –
An unquestionably unique take on the Kelly story and the lore around Australia’s most famous outlaw, The True History of the Kelly Gang is also an unfortunate example of trying to mix things up too much, creating an emotionally hollow and unengaging retelling of a famed real life story.
2 muddy dresses out of 5