True History Of The Kelly Gang review: George MacKay soars again

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George MacKay, Essie Davis and Nicholas Hoult star in True History Of The Kelly Gang – and here’s our review.

When a film opens with the caption ‘Nothing you are about to see is true’, it puts in place some expectation. Especially if the film with that very same caption is called True History Of The Kelly Gang. Loosely inspired by fact, more greatly inspired by folklore and the desire to be cinematic, the story begins in Australia in 1867 with a young Ned Kelly (Orlando Schwerdt) having an oedipal-esque crisis, loving his mother (Davis) and hating his violent and incompetent father. Events soon conspire to make a young Ned the head of the household, with a brief role for Russell Crowe as Harry Power, the man who teaches him his criminal ways. This portion of the film is fine enough but is most memorable only as it is pre-GM (pre-George MacKay).

As soon as MacKay enters proceedings as teen/young adult Ned, that’s when the movie really picks up. The narrative itself doesn’t vary, rather that MacKay gives a powerhouse performance that reinforces, should there be any doubters, that he’s one of the most electric and visceral young actors working in cinema right now. As Ned Kelly, he’s a terrifying, violent, imposing, malicious and magnetic anarchist.

Justin Kurzel’s direction frames Ned Kelly as a punk, 100 years before punk as we know it. A wild and untamed thing fighting for those he loves and what he thinks is right. The film itself isn’t quite at MacKay’s level. As with his two previous films, Macbeth (2015) and Assassin’s Creed (2016), Kurzel’s direction has a lot of poetic imagery that looks beautiful but feels like style over substance. The film’s cinematography, courtesy of Ari Wegner, is an exquisite array of dirt and grit – finding a macabre beauty in a desolate and unforgiving landscape.

But underneath this, the movie’s not really saying much. It’s very watchable, certainly, but it drifts about, runs a little over its welcome, and feels an anachronistic rebrand of an Australian legend in the vein of Peaky Blinders. It’s a solid piece of work. But MacKay, really, is the reason to shell out for a ticket.

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