By Nathanael Griffis
I remember back when I didn’t care that much about movies and I simply liked them, back in the time when I let other people tell me how to feel about them, back before I realized there was a whole world of weird and wonderful films to explore, back in my junior year of high school. I saw a quick news bit on the ten most anticipated upcoming films. I watched through a few and one caught my eye: Ned Kelly. It starred Orlando Bloom, hot off Lord of the Rings and Pirates of the Caribbean, and Heath Ledger, whom I’d been impressed with from The Four Feathers but everyone else knew from A Knight’s Tale and 10 Things I Hate About You. It looked like a cool take on the Western in Australia, and the trailer had the stars staring deeply into smoky space, with plenty of gunshots cut around it, so yeah, I was in.
And then we never got it. It seemed to disappear, and my precious high-school psyche was burnt. Like a child promised a gift who is thrust a hastily purchased coffee mug after their parent comes home from a trip, I was confused. What were these films that I was supposed to be anticipating? Why wasn’t I getting the fourth most anticipated movie of the year? Suddenly my faith in television movie lists began to crumble. I became an unfortunate husk of an American with no media guidance, betrayed by the glowing rectangle that I called Teacher. I was forced to start forming my own opinions. I would have to either take an interest in movies myself and do research on what was coming out on my own, or, succumb to nature and get a life and never care about movies again.
Thankfully for you, or not if perhaps you’re annoyed because you were just hoping for a thumbs up or thumbs down review, I did not succumb to the temptation to make something of myself. Instead I am diligently wasting away my life. I just do it independently now, so it feels more… I don’t know, fancy. Either way my life of movie-watching continued uninterrupted until I was accosted by the Ned Kelly poster on Netflix. There stood my daunting disappointment, the girl on the bus you never talked to, who blew back her hair in the just-so-subtle inviting way that both intimidates and disarms you at the same moment. It took me some time to get around to watching it, because the reality is that I do have a job, friends, a house, a family, other hobbies, and a parrot; but reality is ultimately lame, and I prefer the fiction of the struggling blogger typing away praying for that one reader to comment, kindly of course, with some mention of the words “beautiful” and “prose” in the comments. Upon watching Ned Kelly, I realized why it never made its way over to my movie theaters. It sucked. It sucked so bad it couldn’t make it to Binghamton.
This is a thoroughly disappointing movie, much like the conversation with the pretty girl on the bus who probably is vegan to a fault — not that it’s wrong to be vegan, but it is wrong to guilt trip me into gnawing on a kale and tree bark sandwich. The movie has an impressive cast: Ledger, Bloom, Geoffrey Rush, Joel Edgerton, and Naomi Watts. It squanders the talent though, with a confusing script, bewildering accents (there isn’t a hint of Australian anywhere to be found), fumbling humor, and bad acting 101 delivered to us courtesy of Orlando Bloom, who spends most of the movie as if he were on a bar stool shooting pickup lines at the audience.
There is a scene where Ned Kelly, played by Heath Ledger, if I wasn’t clear on that point, mistakenly collects a horse, which he will later be accused of stealing, and then a women magically appears on it, for little to no reason. Oh, except that it’s really important, because later in the movie she’s going to be his ten-second love interest that should make us care about him. The women in this film are unfortunately very poorly drawn. The mother is a helpless matriarch who is at a loss without her sons, but can’t seem to keep them out of trouble. Naomi Watts is wasted as a beautiful wife of a rancher who has an affair with Ned. Every other women just falls over backwards for the illustrious gang.
The history of the story is interesting, but I won’t go into it, because the film butchers the history by flopping it about in voice-overs. It tries to gloss over the stale humor with intriguing images, and the idea that Ned Kelly feels bad about the people he kills. Maybe he did, and certainly the system was against Irish immigrants at the time, but a movie should make sense. Geoffrey Rush barely has lines and fumbles about in a silly hat until at the end he asks Ned if he can have his sash, which Rush delivers as if it should be profound, but it comes off as an odd hobo adding another strain of fabric to his sash cupboard.
The whole thing is wrapped up in a tired bow of false realism with Ledger saying in voice-over, “Such is life.” I suppose it’s hinting at life being unfair for minorities, and that we should stand up for ourselves, but even if we do the powerful majority will stomp us down, shoot our camels and monkeys (did I mention the circus?), and then hang us. Overall I learned that Orlando Bloom is certainly not a good actor. His character needs a certain humorous charm that speaks of a mysterious danger. Instead Bloom comes off as psychotic. And, despite all the interesting history and cast, everyone needs a good script and a good director if you want a good movie.
About the author:
Nate was once a silent film star whose song-and-dance skills helped him make an effective transition to talkies. Now he won’t shut up and frequently breaks into song on our podcast. Nate is self-described as a personally professional person. He loves meditative films and is crossing his fingers for Nature Scene Screen Saver: The Movie. (One could argue that Terrence Malick already made this film, and called it The Tree of Life.) Nate’s favorite films include A History of Violence, A Beautiful Mind, Wall-E, The Graduate, and 127 Hours.