(Australia/France/UK/China - 2020)
Directed by Justin Kurzel. Written by Shaun Grant. Cast: George MacKay, Russell Crowe, Charlie Hunnam, Essie Davis, Nicholas Hoult, Orlando Schwerdt, Thomasin McKenzie, Sean Keenan, Earl Cave, Marlon Williams, Louis Hewison, Ben Corbett, Claudia Karvan, Jack Charles, Lola Hewison, Paul Capsis, Jacob Collins-Levy. (R, 125 mins)
Licking his wounds after his ill-advised sojourn to Hollywood for a big-budget video game franchise that wasn't with the dismal ASSASSIN'S CREED, Australian filmmaker Justin Kurzel (THE SNOWTOWN MURDERS, MACBETH) retreats to safer ground with the smaller-scale TRUE HISTORY OF THE KELLY GANG. Based on Peter Carey's acclaimed 2000 novel of the same name, the film is yet another look at the life of Australian outlaw, folk hero, and cultural icon Ned Kelly, executed by hanging in 1880 and played in the past by Mick Jagger in 1970's NED KELLY and by Heath Ledger in an identically-titled 2003 version. Carey's novel was more or less high-end Ned Kelly fan fiction, and Kurzel and screenwriter Shaun Grant take even more liberties with their so-called "punk rock" adaptation, most notably with some gender-bending elements and overt homoeroticism that indicate a queer interpretation of the Kelly mythology. It doesn't really stick the landing and comes off as trying too hard to force a subtext--one that wasn't in the novel--through the enlightened lens of woke 2020. It's an interesting approach that probably seemed like a better concept on paper than in the way it plays out on the screen, where the feeling ends up being one of a grim Down Under western like THE PROPOSITION if re-imagined by HEDWIG AND THE ANGRY INCH auteur John Cameron Mitchell.