TRUE HISTORY OF THE KELLY GANG – Completely Fictional and Bloody Brilliant

With a film titled TRUE HISTORY OF THE KELLY GANG and the first words you see on the screen being “NOTHING YOU ARE ABOUT TO SEE IS TRUE” you get the tone of the film in the opening few minutes. A fictionalised insane romp into The Kelly Gang. The film has an ensemble cast of the best of Australia and three of the best international stars of the current day and it slips into the cinemas for a very limited release from Transmission Films.

Life got in the way of my review with the film releasing into cinemas on the 9th January (all cinemas screening it listed at the bottom of this post). But if you can’t get out and see it at the cinema have no fear, it is releasing on Stan for Australia Day. It is rated MA15+ but I could honestly have seen an R18+ rating not been surprised. Just don’t go and see this for a factual retelling of Ned Kelly or you will be sorely disappointed.

True History of the Kelly Gang Orlando Schwerdt and Essie Davis
Orlando Schwerdt and Essie Davis

BY JASON KING

TRUE HISTORY OF THE KELLY GANG SYNOPSIS:

Inspired by Peter Carey’s Man Booker prize winning novel of the same name, Justin Kurzel’s TRUE HISTORY OF THE KELLY GANG shatters the mythology of the notorious icon to reveal the essence behind the life of Ned Kelly and force a country to stare back into the ashes of its brutal past.

Spanning the younger years of Ned’s life to the time leading up to his death, the film explores the blurred boundaries between what is bad and what is good, and the motivations for the demise of its hero. Youth and tragedy collide in the Kelly Gang, and at the beating heart of this tale is the fractured and powerful love story between a mother and a son.

True History of the Kelly Gang George MacKay
George MacKay

WTF DID I JUST SEE?

I don’t even know where to begin – nothing you see in this movie fits the historic legend of Ned Kelly. TRUE HISTORY OF THE KELLY GANG is simply brutal and batshit insane. I find the persona of Ned would be close to reality – surely he was certifiable based on what he actually did but this film gives us much much more. It is set in some of the most beautifully barren land in Australia. Young Ned (Orlando Schwerdt) lives with his mum (Essie Davis) and siblings in their home, and her little brothel for one. Everything is stylised and every frame is marvellous, this is about visual rock and roll Ned Kelly and it works. Ned’s predicament and motives are explained due to his love and hurt from family, namely his parents and then any father figure to ever come into Ned’s life.

Young Ned has a path choice laid out before him but everything steers him to become the murdering crazy man he eventually embodies, this is basically Australian Hamlet on Shrooms. Mistreated youth, hideous upbringing and his only love from his crazy mum, that reminds you of Jackie Weaver in ANIMAL KINGDOM, as his guide to how life should be. The fictional Ned Kelly makes sense. His mum’s a whore and sleeps with a bunch of men, who all try to be a father figure for Ned, his mum sells him to Harry Power (Russell Crowe) who has the potential to be a wonderful father figure until Ned discovers his true predicament and then it gets worse.

The Kelly Gang then become cross dressers because “nothing scares a man like crazy,” and so the scene is set for debauchery and mayhem. I am pretty sure Ned was already crazy before he donned a dress, but hey he is also bisexual and has a wonderful “Cunt” Song for us all to sing along with so nothing will surprise you.

True History of the Kelly Gang Charlie Hunnam
Mrs Salty Popcorn

IT’S LIKE A ROB ZOMBIE FILM WRITTEN BY NICK CAVE, INSPIRED BY GUY RITCHIE AND FILMED IN THE 70S WHILE EVERYONE WAS ON ACID:

Like the paragraph heading implies; picture a Rob Zombie movie written by Nick Cave (his son actually has a role in the movie), inspired by some Guy Ritchie craziness and then set in the 70s genre and dump some acid. That’s the film – Tarantino no doubt think this is one of the best films ever! The stylisation is from Ritchie, and it’s marvellous – the end credits alone are the most stylised and amazing credits I have seen in years.

The cinematography from Ari Wegner (THE KETTERING INCIDENT, IN FABRIC) deserves awards as does the art direction from Janie Parker (LION, STORM BOY). But the biggest kudos has to go to Justin Kurzel, director of SNOWTOWN and 2015’s MACBETH . He is also Essie Davis’ husband and brings out one of the most unique performances of her career. Based on SNOWTOWN and MACBETH you can see his earlier career was heading to direct this adaption of Peter Carey’s novel. But he takes many a liberty, as did Carey, in delivering a story you will find hard to forget. Performances alone this film deserves truckloads of awards.

IT’S NOT ALL PEACHES AND ACID:

While I love this film it does get way too crazy at times and falls off the rails a bit. For one – there wasn’t enough of the iconic helmet and there are quite a few sub plots going on with a lot of marvellous quantity but a little lacking in quality. I was left with more questions about the characters, I needed more character development and I needed more Russell Crowe, more Charlie Hunnam and I could live my life seeing Nicholas Hoult play a total cunt (if this offends you the movie is not for you as they say it A LOT) – I wanted more of that. And finally – there just wasn’t enough of the outlaw bushranger – there is so much build up, a couple of deaths and next thing you know we’re at Glenrowan.

True History of the Kelly Gang Russell Crowe
Big Russ

ONE OF THE GREATEST PERFORMANCES OF 2019/2020:

The entire cast gave their all in believing in Kurzel’s vision. George Mackay had two movies release on the same day on January 9th in this and 1917. He gives a career defining performance. He is normally quite subdued onscreen but Jeeeezus, he channels the best of Nic Cage crazy in his delivery. I could watch him play this character forever it’s that good.

Like MacKay, young Ned, played by Orlando Schwerdt was a revelation. I need this kid in more movies, he was bloody brilliant and almost stole the screen in scenes with Essie, Russ and Charlie. Three seasoned actors all being matched by a kid in his debut role – he has so far to go! Russell Crowe gives one of his best performances in years and has a lot of fun doing it – the world now needs a movie about Harry Power and Tarantino needs to direct it. Likewise Charlie Hunnam is amazing in the film – more so when he is naked gratuitously giving the world reasons to buy movie tickets. Nicholas Hoult embraces an inner Paul Capsis and plays the debaucherous Constable Fitpatrick, the crazy cop who thinks he is King Shit and is the start of the end for Ned because he wants to screw Ned’s sister. Hoult is brilliant actor – he needs more roles!!

And finally Essie Davis – the delightful Miss Fisher in this she is not. She is the insanity that created Ned Kelly. Her predicament no doubt came from her life and she did what she had to do. But it was bleak and what she did led to a murdering insane serial killer. She is tough, crazy and brutal and you can see her personality in Ned. One of her clear standout performances. I can see Grannies all over Australia running to see her in this and see the story of Ned Kelly and then running out screaming at what they saw.

Special shoutouts to Thomasin McKenzie as Mary Hearn – one possible good path and love interest to Ned. You may recognise her – she is also in JOJO RABBIT as Elsa, the girl in the attic. Keep your eye on her, she is going places. And finally I do have to mention Earl Cave as Ned’s younger brother Dan Kelly. He is one episode of THE END OF THE F***ING WORLD and was in the 2017 TV mini-series BORN TO KILL. He is great and totally suits the film – I could have seen more of him and look forward to seeing him in the upcoming ALEX RIDER TV Series.

True History of the Kelly Gang George MacKay
George MacKay

SWINGING BY THE NECK:

TRUE HISTORY OF THE KELLY GANG is pure fictional insanity – do not take your parents and your grandparents to see this. I watched it with my mum and we both required counselling afterwards – when they burst into a “Cunt” Song saw me start imploding into myself to hide from mum’s expression haha. See this for some top notch film making and some of the greatest performances you will see this year. If you can’t make it to see it at the cinemas you can watch it on Stan from January 26th.

IN SELECT CINEMAS NOW!

See below for cinema listings. 

NSW: Dendy NewtownHayden Orpheum Picture Palace CremorneUnited Cinemas AvalonMount Vic FlicksRitz Cinemas

VIC: Classic Cinemas ElsternwickCameo Cinemas BelgraveLido CinemasSun Theatre YarravilleThornbury Picture HouseRegent Cinemas Ballarat

ACT: Dendy Canberra

SA: Regal Theatre

QLD: Dendy PortsideDendy Coorparoo

WA: The Backlot Perth

TAS: MONA

SALTY’S POP SCORE:

YOUR CRITIC:

Jason King owns, writes and edits Salty Popcorn and Spooning Australia. A movie, food, restaurant, wine, chocolate, bacon, burger and brussels sprouts addict he is a member of the Australian Film Critics Association and has been in the Australian movie industry for 26yrs. 

He believes all it takes to make a good movie is a bloody good story, with a little luck the rest should fall in line. He is getting a little sick of saying “story story story” in his reviews with so much shite releasing in the last decade. Furthermore he loves watching people trip over and is Leonardo DiCaprio’s biggest fan. 

** Images used are courtesy of various sources on Google or direct from the distributor or publisher. Credit has been given to photographers where known – images will be removed on request.