14 January 2020 | luke-eberhardt
An Insane Historical Fantasy
"Nothing you see in this film is true..." okay! I have a lot more to say about this film than when the above quote meets the viewer's eyes in the opening.
Let's just get this fact of the matter out of the way that this film is pure and simple 'Fiction', 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. That also goes to show I didn't have any expectations whatsoever, but I do like Justin Kurzel as a filmmaker and 'True History' fits alongside the likes of his efforts; 'Snowtown' and 'Macbeth.' Yet, despite my admiration for his film-making, especially for what's on display with this film's Gothic imagery, brooding tone and incredibly sharp gritty attitudes, I cannot and will not admire it for being a piece of historical fiction whose 'real facts' are not only iconic, they're well known by many Australians far and wide as a part of our culture and folk law. Yet what this film does is fictionalize the story and history... severely.
I understand 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 as Harry Power (Ned's Mentor), Essie Davis as Ellen Kelly (Ned's Mother), Thomasin McKenzie as Mary Hearn (Ned's lover) and Nicolas Hoult as Constable Fitzpatrick. I've 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 (George Mackay). 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 (or historical figure) be it hero or righteous criminal but intensify it. 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 (also due to said material). There was even a nice thoughtful edge given to the depth and dimensions to most characters too, as there were some great scenes where upon engaging with one another, their interests and intentions were just as clear and compelling as Kurzel's 'Snowtown.' However, it's no enough when you've A) seen and know this story before and are questioning it's further liberties, or B) understand that historical facts are what constitutes history and should not be subjected to fiction in such a way as this film does. Let me also add, it's explicit content of being largely violent and overt use of foul language might detract from viewers as never used to such a level I've seen or heard in a film about Ned Kelly. To say it isn't recommended to the 'faint of heart' would be an understatement.
Sad to say this film doesn't add anything new to what I already don't know about Ned Kelly. I understand the cast and crew's passion for bringing Peter Carey's 'novel of the same name' to the big screen in such a way that'll feel fresh for the public to witness. Yet, that doesn't do enough to constitute the story's historical basis and purely undermines that history in favor of glamorized/fictionalized entertainment. Thus the 'True' in the title implies subjectivity, something for this film's Ned to honestly explain in a way that will polarize anyone reading his story. Ultimately, it's greatest weakness is it's developmental nature for Ned as an outlaw, once Ned is outside the law he adopts an extremist resistance view to the law and state government. Ned wishes he could've lived an honest life for his supposed daughter (who 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 wide appeal, neither does it best represent Ned Kelly. I can see it being praised by some, yet ridiculed by others. I can best describe it as an Insane Historical Fantasy, suspend your disbelief as much as possible when watching this, don't take it as fact, yet try to realize there's more to the myths that're said about Ned and in my adult life I've come to value that a lot more than the fiction.