Australian Outlaw’s Life Story

The life and times of legendary Australian outlaw Ned Kelly are feverishly explored in filmmaker Justin Kurzel’s True History of the Kelly Gang. Packing a different attitude than most dry period pieces, the harsh and gritty drama details Kelly’s unhappy childhood in the grueling lands of 19th Century Australia and how it formed the man that ultimately led a notorious criminal rebellion.

George MacKay (1917) stars as Ned Kelly, a man sold off in childhood to a thieving bushranger before becoming an outlaw and rebel as an adult. Patterning Ned Kelly after Sid Vicious, there’s a distinct punk vibe given to the notorious criminal outlaw.

Essie Davis (The Babadook) plays Kelly’s whoring mother, a hard-scrabble Irish woman with serious venom directed at the ruling English government in Australia. Russell Crowe pops up as a bandit that attempts to take the young Ned Kelly under his wing. This is not a feel-good story but it does a decent job humanizing Ned Kelly.

True History of the Kelly Gang is a postmodern crack at the Ned Kelly legend

Discovering he comes from a line of Irish warriors called the Sons of Sieve, Kelly leads an anarchist army of followers against the English ruling class in Australia. This is part biography and part action drama, taking creative liberties with history when necessary. There may be too much action for the arthouse crowd, and too little action for fans coming to see Ned Kelly play outlaw.

True History of the Kelly Gang is a postmodern crack at the Ned Kelly legend, approaching the well-known figure’s myth by attempting to get inside his head. Kelly’s fractured family background and tragic relationships are much fodder for the character-driven story, making huge chronological jumps through his life. The heavy-handed direction values flash over substance, sometimes hurting the narrative’s flow.

A solid cast and energetic direction make up for some of the movie’s biggest failings. The overwrought, pretentious outlaw tale goes on and on seemingly forever. It would have been far more watchable clocking in at 90 minutes instead of a ponderous two hours.

Video

Director Justin Kurzel goes outside the bounds of traditional period tales with flashy direction and a penchant for jaw-dropping visuals. Australia’s badlands in the 1870s are shown in sharp, concise definition with rich picture detail. True History of the Kelly Gang’s 1.85:1 presentation exudes both depth and dimension in the fetching cinematography. This is nearly pristine 1080P video made for high definition material. Color filters play less of a role than expected for a period drama.

The main feature runs 125 minutes on a BD-50. The AVC encode runs at extremely high parameters, transparently capturing the vivid imagery without issues. Shout Factory provides a technically sound transfer taken from the movie’s digital intermediate.

This isn’t a processed transfer by any stretch and despite a gritty vibe delivers consistent clarity. About the only noticeable problem is a touch of crushing, happening in the darkest of scenes. Otherwise, shadow delineation and contrast are untouchable.

Audio

The violent action depicted in True History of the Kelly Gang makes for a meaty, substantial 5.1 DTS-HD MA soundtrack with real energy and verve. There’s plenty happening which helps immerse listeners with suitable atmosphere and a unique musical score tightly integrated into the drama. The thick Australian accents are heard in clean fidelity, though admittedly some dialogue passages will likely have you turning on subtitles for comprehension.

It is a spacious mix with layered immersion and atmosphere laid out in the rear speakers. The score is consciously anachronistic, including more dissonant elements plucked from modern music you wouldn’t expect from a period piece. The explosive finale delivers a swell of LFE rumble and pinpoint imaging. The fairly big soundstage allows for effective channel separation and expected directional bursts.

Two secondary audio options are offered – 2.0 DTS-HD MA and a descriptive English track. Optional English SDH and Spanish subtitles play in a white font.

Extras

Acting as a distributor for IFC Films, Shout Factory doesn’t include anything here beyond the theatrical trailer. A slipcover and reversible cover art is provided.

True History of the Kelly Gang Theatrical Trailer (02:02 in HD)

IFC Films Trailers (07:22 in HD) – Three trailers from the label’s offerings precede the main menu: Swallow, Three Christs, Resistance.

Full disclosure: This Blu-ray was provided to us for review. This has not affected the editorial process. For information on how we handle review material, please visit our about us page to learn more.

True History of the Kelly Gang
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Movie

Stylish but pretentious take on Ned Kelly’s personal story that turns Australian folklore into overwrought history.

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