Monday, December 22, 2003

Ten-Four, Good Buddy Pictures





Friday, December 12, 2003

Ned Kelly (2003)

Directed By: Gregor Jordan
Written By: John M. McDonagh adapted it from a hopefully superior Robert Drewe novel.
Starring: Heath Ledger, Orlando Bloom, Naomi Watts, and Geoffrey Rush
Synopsis: Ned Kelly, the famous Australian outlaw, wanders aimlessly through the Australian countryside killing people because they want to kill him until the film mercifully ends.

I should note that starring might be too strong a word. Watts and Rush float at the edges of this picture, while Ledger and Bloom get all the face time as this picture slowly slips from a mediocre historical drama into one of the most God-awful movies I have ever been unfortunate enough to sit through. And I own this movie. My brothers said it was good, it was only five bucks, and I bought it. I've been had.

Why is this picture so wretched, you inquire? After all, all of the actors named usually do excellent work - in fact, this picture is no exception for them. Ledger seems born to play Ned Kelly, the young Australian bandit driven into a Robin Hood-esque role by a corrupt police force, and Bloom is... well, he's Orlando Bloom. He plays Ledger's best friend just like you'd expect him to play him: Legolas the Australian bandit. He gazes across barren landscapes as if trying to use his Elf eyes, says all his lines with that elfin know-it-all attitude, he even speaks the language of every ethnic group they run into with perfect fluency. Watts spends most of her time on screen making out with Ledger. Rush stands around and looks bad-ass. In a lot of situations, this is the recipe for a great movie - just look at Pirates of the Caribbean, which also features Bloom, Rush, and composer Klaus Badelt. And yet it is not great. It is terrible, for two clear reasons:

1. Screenwriter John M. McDonagh is clearly incapable of fashioning any sort of understandable plot from what very well may be an well-written book by Robert Drewe. He somehow manages to make a fairly straightforward narrative about a man driven outside the law by a crooked cop (I've never seen that particular plot before, have you?) into a messy plot involving a circus that he steals, battle armor that recalls the Black Knight from Monty Python and the Holy Grail, and a lot of Braveheart-type speeches that Ledger delivers to rally the troops. However, all of these speeches are delivered, not to his own men, but to the people that he is holding as hostages while he robs banks. No, it doesn't make any more sense than it sounds. For all I know, Ned Kelly was a heroic outlaw whose brave stand against the law is a part of Australian lore. However, the schizophrenic plot simply leaves me wondering why anyone would ever care - all of Kelly actions seem completely arbitrary. Nothing he does makes sense. At one point, he kills his own horse, and he and all his men eat it raw. I guess they were starving or something. Then he goes and makes out with Naomi Watts again. He's a real charismatic leader.
2. Director Gregor Jordan directs the film like a Discovery channel special. Wherever Kelly goes, Jordan seems determined to show the viewer the neat landscape that surrounds Kelly. Each scene is preceded by close-ups on snakes, birds, flowers, fern leaves. Fern leaves? Why? It's as if to remind viewers that the film takes place in Australia, in case they'd gotten confused and mistaken the film for a bad western. Frankly, it would be lucky to be mistaken for a bad western. However, it's interesting that he spends so much effort on creating extremely well-composed shots on all of these nature cutaways, because he shows no such passion on any part of the rest of the film. The camera work is shoddy; he never gives his actors any close-ups in emotional scenes, instead choosing to keep both the camera and the audience distant from any connection to the action. In fact, often he doesn't even remember to put the correct actor in focus in each sequence. It's half-hearted filmmaking at its most obvious.

In case you have any doubt as to the true atrociousness that is Ned Kelly, consider this: at the end of the movie (I'm going to spoil the ending for you here. I don't care), as the train carrying Kelly departs to take him away to be hung, Ledger's voice-over appears one last time (of course there's a voice-over in this movie) to say, quote: "Well, these things happen."

I think that says it all.

I'd give this film no stars at all, out of pure spite, but it did have one great line buried beneath the madness, for which I believe it should be rewarded. One of the pointless auxillary characters tells the others that they can't come in, because he has "company," Mary something-or-other. "Mary something-or-other? But she's only 13!" "It's alright. I'm not superstitious." For that one line, you get one star. Be grateful.