REVIEW: “TRUE HISTORY OF THE KELLY GANG” (2020) IFC Films

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We all grow up learning about not only our heroes, but of our villains as well.  Sometimes these “villain’s” can actually become heroes to those who follow and worship them – as is the ‘Robin Hood effect’ where by stealing from the rich and giving to the poor, they are greatly admired people in history. Depending on where it is you grow up – is whom you learn about.  So while a greater part of my growing up was in the U.S., I learned of people like Jessie James, Butch Cassidy & The Sundance Kid, and Bonnie & Clyde etc. While ‘down-under’ in Australia it seems they had a ‘villain’ all of their very own. Ned Kelly and The Kelly Gang.  I know some of the films done about these characters have taken a lot of liberties when it comes to facts, so when I found out this one is based upon a book written by Peter Carey – who describes the book as being ‘true’ – with a big emphasis on such as it being in the title as well, it was a bit jolting to see the “TRUE HISTORY OF THE KELLY GANG” open with the statement: “Nothing you’re about to see is true.”

Delving into the first hour of the movie which takes a total focus on Ned’s childhood. Young Ned (Orlando Sschwerdt) as the eldest son of the Ellen Kelly (Essie Davis) and John Kelly (Ben Corbett), who are some of those unlucky Irish who were transported to Australia as convicts. British Sergeant O’Neil (Charlie Hunnam) not only arrests John for stealing a cow which Ned actually stole, but has been with Ellen this whole time as well. The whole episode leaves Ned to start a spiral that seems to follow him from this point on. In-between Ellen resorts to whatever she must do to keep all her children alive and in steps Harry Power (Russell Crowe) with whom Ellen sends Ned away with to supposedly “make him a man,” but has essentially sold him to Power. Power tries to force Ned to kill O’Neil as revenge, and Ned falls short as he shoots him, but almost as an accident, and doesn’t kill him – but O’Neil then hauls him off to jail. Yes, this is just the first hour which is so crazily portrayed, it’s almost as if they are all going through some psychosis or another and we are just along for the ride trying to keep up with it all.

We then fast-forward ten years for the even more graphic second half of the film with a now grown up and out of jail Ned (George MacKay). Ned returns home to find his mother shacked up with a guy only a few years older than himself, George King (Marlon Williams) a drifter from California no less, who proclaims he is going to be Ned’s new father – he is also a horse thief and has recruited Ned’s younger brother Dan (Earl Cave), and Dan’s friend Steve (Louis Hewison) to help out. Their ‘signature’ is of the gang is wearing women’s dresses, which Ned finds and goes on a rail to return the dresses. In doing so, he is suddenly with Mary (Thomasin McKenzie), who he falls for immediately even though she has a baby that isn’t his. And in one of the more odd scenes, and there are many, he meets and almost becomes friends with another British law office, Constable Fitzpatrick (Nicholas Hoult), whose character is hard to differentiate from his childhood nemesis, Sergeant O’Neill.

This whole film is akin to a whirlwind or a high speed hurricane where you find yourself in the center of and can’t get out. I can best describe it as an Insane Historical Fantasy – with a punk rock soundtrack that upon hearing at the beginning, I almost thought Ned was going to be a 1970’s punk rocker, an Australian Sid Vicious of sort, because of it. After doing my own little piece of research on Ned Kelly and his gang, I find out he was known most of all for what made him most famous, as the bushranger who wore a suit of bulletproof iron during his final shootout with the police. While this is shown in the film, and despite the historical setting, context and characters, it by no means represents or even intentionally tries to tell a historically respectable, let alone accurate portrayal of Ned Kelly.

Understandably I’m very split on this film, but let me at least give credit where credit is due. The acting all around is great, the cast is all fine in what they’re given, stand outs include; Orlando Schwerdt as Young Ned, Russell Crowe, Essie Davis – whom I will say totally creeped me out and I will admit to not really having known who she was at all – turns out she is the directors wife as well.  Thomasin McKenzie and Nicholas Hoult did okay enough, but again, it was as if Hunnam & Hoult were interchangeable as their roles were so similar and both distasteful characters. I haven’t got many complaints about the other performers, only that they weren’t given much for me to be invested in despite the film’s insistence I empathize with Ned. I believe anyone of a similar age to when the real Ned Kelly died (25) could play Ned, yet despite the material not being compelling enough to decide if Ned’s actions be justified or vilified, it’s not going to sway how anyone views the character be it hero or righteous criminal, but perhaps intensify it as it did make me personally want to read about him. Mackay is as fine as ever with what he does, yet his lack of a beard that’s always characterized Ned Kelly fails me to even buy him as Ned completely.

Ultimately, it’s greatest weakness is it’s development of Ned as an outlaw. Once Ned is outside the law, his extremist views to the law and state government take hold even though you feel as though Ned wishes he could’ve lived an honest life for his supposed child who from what I’ve now read, never existed. Yet his fall from honest life is fast and doesn’t pick up much weight when his ‘movement’ builds compared to the way the scenes leading up to it do. There’s a lot to admire about this film, yet I don’t think it’ll have a overall appeal to many. I can see it being praised by some, yet ridiculed by others.

With it’s violence and rough sex and language scenes, to say it isn’t recommended to the ‘faint of heart’ would be an understatement.

Grade: C-

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Review Screening link: Courtesy of IFC Films 

“TRUE HISTORY OF THE KELLY GANG” IS NOW AVAILABLE FOR RENT/PURCHASE ON AMAZON

REVIEW: “CRIMSON PEAK” (2015) Universal

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Crimson Peak sets us in early 1900’s Buffalo, New York, where we meet Edith Cushing (Mia Wasikowska) an ahead of her time writer who works for her father Carter Cushing (Jim Beaver), a powerful businessman who’s willing to hear a proposition from the desperate, in-need of quick financing, Baronet Thomas Sharpe (Tom Hiddleston). The Sharpe estate in England, Allerdale Hall, sits on top of a valuable red clay mine, and Thomas is in need of funding to build a machine he has invented that will reach the minerals underneath. crimson peak 1Being tall, dark, and handsome, Thomas is able to win Edith’s heart as a means to the money, but he does seem to have genuine affection for her, much to the displeasure of his intimidating sister Lucille Sharpe (Jessica Chastain). It’s plainly obvious to everyone but Edith that Thomas & Lucille are up to no good from moment one. However, when she moves with Thomas and Lucille to Allerdale Hall, Edith discovers that it holds dark secrets and phantoms, and that the warning she received as a girl from her mother’s ghost to “Beware of Crimson Peak,” has started to come true. crimson peak 2

This may not be a ghost story, but ghosts are here, and they don’t really serve the story well. The mystery behind Allerdale Hall gets to be a bit tedious with oddly unnecessary stabbings up until the end when del Toro finally shows us what he’s seemingly been going for all along. And even though I’m quite good at predicting plot twists, the reveal showed itself early on, though it did work for me in it’s own way and is finally where the film somewhat clicked for me albeit a little late in the game.
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Crimson Peak never reaches the heights of some of del Toro’s earlier work, as I loved “Pans Labyrinth” and thought it was simply fantastic. The “Hellboy” franchise has it’s own sense of campy-ness fun and “The Hobbit” films aren’t 5-star, but they are watchable. In terms of the characters or plot, it at least surpasses the rock-em’ sock-em’ robots of “Pacific Rim” in that regards.
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There are three performances here that felt stand out some with the rest being almost what you’d expect again with exceptions. Chastain, who pulls out all the stops and makes her character wonderfully creepy. Jim Beaver, even though in a small supporting role, stands out and lastly and a bit surprising as his role is a bit bigger and juicier than I would have thought, is Charlie Hunnam as Dr. Alan McMichael. Mia Wasikowska doesn’t really do herself any favours here and is almost blissfully bland. Hiddleston is fair enough and really just stays stuck in middle ground.
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Though this old-fashioned ghost story is decidedly short on scares
Crimson Peak wonderfully crafted set & costume design is truly sublime and always pleasing to the eye, though its story and scare factor is often far less compelling.

Grade: C+
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Screening: Tuesday, October 13, 2015 ~ Courtesy of Universal Pictures