Over the past decade, Justin Kurzel has always been a filmmaker who I’ve always purposefully avoided. To be completely transparent, I loathed every single one of his films prior to The True History of the Kelly Gang. Snowtown is an obnoxious re-telling of an act of gutless violence that feels like exploitative tragedy porn. Macbeth (2015) is a boring re-iteration of a classic play, with gorgeous yet seemingly lifeless performances and cinematography. Assassin’s Creed (2016) is an abhorrent adaptation that forces its audience into a realm of convoluted stakes and an ever-glaring and emotionless Michael Fassbender. Going into The True History of the Kelly Gang, with barely any bias, was a bit of task because of this. Kurzel is an artist that strives on grim and brooding stories of hyper-masculine intentions, that nearly always fail, due to his lack of self-awareness and basic comprehension of character development.
It brings me great pleasure, that this time around, The True History of the Kelly Gang is easily Kurzel’s best work to date. Although this isn’t saying much do to his previously stained filmography, it’s still an astonishing feat that a film about the evolution of a murderous Australian clique, managed to compel and whisk away it’s audience into a startlingly realm of systematic oppression and the reign of the upper class. It plays like a Shakespearean tragedy of sorts; how role models and the lack of faith between different culture groups can create a divide that can shake a whole nation’s core. Kurzel finally understands where the toxic masculinity (which his characters evoke) comes from, to the point where the transformation of Ned Kelly, is equal parts horrifying and insightful. Even if his final progression to madness does feel ultimately rushed and over the top, the opening moments of the film, more than makes up for the film’s lackluster character development in its third act.
With a serenading Russell Crowe, and an always daring and sexy Charlie Hunnam, the real star of The True History of the Kelly Gang is the young gentlemen who plays the young version of Ned Kelly; Orlando Schwerdt. Delivering one of the greatest child performances projected on screen, the gravitas and consequential awareness of his spectacular work, shows a true determined passion towards his role. The battered and bruised child sets up an expectation of modest seriousness and determination for his character, throughout the opening 40 minutes of the film. A close runner up, would easily be Nicholas Hoult’s performance, who channels certain levels of aggression perfectly, including a hilariously dangerous sequence that involves a gun and a young infant.
The True History of the Kelly Gang is bold, visceral, brutal piece of historical fiction. Ned Kelly may be a bit of a brat near the film’s final resolution, causing some serious concern of incel-like transgression; but the bashful finale of the film is one for the ages. The film ends with a brutal bang; a dark-light sequence that will shock and shake your senses silly. It’s a beautiful artful moment, that never let’s go until the very end of it’s gory shootout. I honestly wish Kurzel could create more moments like these. It’s what creates great cinematic experiences, and what will later haunt audiences with everlasting permanent images in their minds, for weeks to come.
The True History of the Kelly Gang screened at this year’s Toronto International Film Festival. IFC Films will release the film in 2020