TIFF 2019: The True History of the Kelly Gang (Justin Kurzel, 2019, Australia/UK)

         After a misguided foray into studio filmmaking with Assassin’s CreedThe True History of the Kelly Gang is a return to form for director Justin Kurzel. Tackling the story of real life outlaw and Australian folk legend Ned Kelly, Kelly Gang is divided into three sections – “Boy”, “Man” and “Monitor”. The first and third sections are the strongest, while the middle section tends to drag. Still, there is a very strong 75 minutes wrapped within this over two-hour journey.
         George MacKay is fantastic as Ned Kelly, bringing a true physicality and energy to a role that demands it. He plays most of the film shirtless, evoking an animalistic quality. Despite ostensibly relaying the history of Ned Kelly, the film makes little pretense to historical accuracy – the costumes and sets are largely anachronistic, capturing the 1870s in spirit but perhaps not in reality. The punk movement in Australia in the 1970s largely inspired Kurzel, and he even had the actors forming Kelly’s gang start a punk band. The band’s music figures into the score at various points in the film, most memorably with the introduction of the adult Ned Kelly.     
         Nicholas Hoult, Charlie Hunnam, Essie Davis, and an almost unrecognizable Russell Crowe round out a cast of familiar faces. Crowe in particular, as Harry Power, the man who introduces Kelly to the outlaw life, is fantastic and brings a lot of humor. Hoult, as Kelly’s upscale antagonist, channels much of the same snobbery that he carried with him in last year’s The Favorite. He also dominates the middle section of the film. The drama that develops between Ned Kelly and Hoult’s character is perhaps the least memorable part of the film, unfortunately.
         The finale, involving an ill-fated standoff and an attempt to free Kelly’s mother from prison, is truly psychedelic. Kurzel pulls out all stops cinematically in order to convey the chaos, madness, and paranoia of the gang. The hallucinatory bloodbath of a finale is truly unlike any other I’ve seen in a film, and will definitely go down as one of the year’s highlights. Kurzel’s vision is worth sticking around for the boring parts of Kelly Gang



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