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The famous line from The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, “When the legend becomes fact, print the legend,” comes to mind when watching Justin Kurzel’s True History of the Kelly Gang. The film begins by telling you “Nothing you’re about to see is true,” and then uses Ned Kelly (George MacKay) writing a letter to his son swearing that the following record of Ned’s life is the truth. In this way, we see Kelly writing his own legend, a legend that persists today as an iconic Australian outlaw. The main problem with the film is that it can’t seem to decide on whether or not it wants to burnish that legend or demythologize Kelly, so it gets caught in this awkward middle ground where the film is kind of a critique on colonialism but also a tale of Kelly realizing and embracing his “destiny” as a violent criminal. True History drags on by failing to provide any insight to Kelly’s story nor does it impress why his legend has persisted for over a hundred years.
Beginning in Australia in 1867, the film follows Kelly from “Boy” (Orlando Schwerdt) to “Man” (MacKay) to “Monitor” (a reference to when Kelly wore bulletproof armor and killed a bunch of police officers). A solid two-thirds of the film is Ned, an Australian colonial whose family hailed from Ireland, trying to avoid the criminal lifestyle that seems to be thrust upon him by outsider actors. His prostitute mother Ellen (Essie Davis) sells Ned to the bushranger (i.e. highwayman) Harry Power (Russell Crowe) to learn the life of being a criminal. As an adult, Ned has a confrontation with Irish constable Alexander Fitzpatrick (Nicholas Hoult) but can’t bring himself to kill the police officer. Eventually Ned accepts the violent life he has to lead and the final...
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