They always say that you can’t choose your own family and there’s a certain truth to that. Most of the time, that doesn’t have a massive impact on you but there are moments it might have.
The film history thought us multiple times that you can’t escape from your (bad) blood. Think about families such as Le Domas family (“Ready or Not”), the Sawyer family (“The Texas Chain Saw Massacre”) or the Meiks family (“Frailty”).
Now, Director Justin Kurzel (“Macbeth”, “The Snowtown Murders”) is adding a notorious real-life family to the list: The Kelly family. His “True History of the Kelly Gang” is so much more than just a movie about a dark, murderous and insane family. What it is, is for you to find out.
Coming from a broken and abusive family, the young Ned Kelly (Orlando Schwerdt) has been surrounded by violence his entire life. He was abandoned by his drunk father and his mother Ellen (Essie Davis) has to pleasure men for money.
She’s so desperate for cash that she sells to Ned to Harry Power (Russell Crowe). Because of Power, Ned sadly comes in contact with even more bloodshed, destruction, and death.
Many years later, it becomes clear that Power has turned the sweet and relatively innocent boy into a violent and emotionally unstable man. After being away from home, Ned (George MacKay) is returning to his family.
Maybe that wasn’t the wisest choice because they will bring even more violence into Ned’s life, especially when he meets the Constable Fitzpatrick (Nicholas Hoult).
Fitzpatrick has some dark secret of his own: Beating up women, allowing men to have sex with “willingly” women and who’s not afraid to use violence to get confessions. When one of his darkest secrets drives Ellen over the edge, times are about to get a whole lot darker. Ellen is being locked up by Fitzpatrick and Ned is out for revenge. How far will Ned take it before things get ugly?
When reading this story about Ned Kelly and his family, you might think that’s just a bloody, action-packed and over the top story written to make a bombastic story. Well, think again! This movie was based on the same-named Peter Carey’s novel.
While it’s a fiction novel and a variation on the Ned Kelly story, the novel still includes some phrases by Ned Kelly himself. This gives this movie a real personal touch and that’s something Kurzel certainly embraces to the fullest.
What makes this film so unique but also a little bit confusing at the same time, are the many characters. Of course, it’s all about Ned Kelly and saying that MacKay (“1917”, “Been So Long”) brings a tour-de-force while playing him would be a massive understatement. He uses his incredibly lean figure to portray the physicality of the broken, violent and dangerous man spectacularly.
When it comes to the emotional side, he does an even more marvellous job as he shows us immensely raw, big and bold emotions. Despite its rough appearance, Ned also has a little soft spot and MacKay puts that very subtle and touching on screen.
While MacKay excels, the rest of the cast does an incredibly great job as well. Schwerdt (“Incubator”) portrays the sweet and innocent young Kelly wonderfully and when things become harsh for Ned, his performance becomes even more captivating and raw.
Davis (“The Babadook”, “Mindhorn”) portrays her broken, deranged, abused but also a courageous character in an extremely captivating and emotional way. The scenes between her and MacKay are extremely emotional and the ones between her and Hoult just hurt you deep inside.
Crowe’s (“The Water Diviner”, “The Nice Guys”) character is just that typical one who only wants to inflict much pain as possible to his enemies. While Crowe is almost unrecognizable behind the makeup and clothes, he still puts on a strong performance.
While she already conquered our hearts with her performance in “Jojo Rabbit”, Thomasin McKenzie does that again as the young woman who will turn Ned’s life totally upside down (in both a good and bad way). McKenzie gives such an emotional and human performance. That scene between her, Hoult and the baby is one of the most upsetting but brilliant scenes in this movie.
That barbaric and violent vibe is created even more by many other stunning elements. First of all, there are perfectly chosen settings. Whether it’s the very remote area, the old and rusty prisons or the rotten hiding places, they just bring out that lonesome and isolated feeling even more.
The cinematography and the camera work are just incredibly well done. The usage of a handheld camera or the focus on the eyes only heightened the emotions and up-close feeling even more. This becomes incredibly clear during the apotheosis of the film.
The wide shots of the landscapes are just a lust for the eye. There’s also the bombastic and powerful musical score that brings everything together in a powerful way.
Ok, “True History of the Kelly Gang” might be a little bit over-the-top or too nerve-wrecking to be enjoyable for some of us but despite that, Kurzel and his cast and crew did an outstanding job. They made from “True History of the Kelly Gang” a harsh, emotionally raw, violent and brilliantly performed movie.