‘True History Of The Kelly Gang’ (2019) Blu-ray reviewed

❉ This is bravura, dirt-under-the-fingernails filmmaking, plunging the audience into mud, muck, and mire.

Released earlier this year and now available on Blu-ray from Shout! Factory, True History of the Kelly Gang is bravura, dirt-under-the-fingernails filmmaking, with ultra-stylish director Justin Kurzel (The Snowtown Murders, Macbeth) smashing the material with a visceral fist, and plunging the audience into mud, muck, and mire. Based on the real-life exploits of Australian outlaw Ned Kelly and his gang of bush-whacking criminals, the film incredibly evokes life during this hardscrabble time period (the 1870’s), with the film’s tremendous sense of aesthetics creating an impossibly thick atmosphere of grunge and filth, with violence hovering over the entire piece like a ghostly specter. The screenplay, which was written by Shaun Grant who adapted Peter Carey’s novel of the same name, takes a mythic approach in telling this nasty family story, and cuts deeper than previous cinematic explorations of the same material.

Fresh off the Sam Mendes one-take war-movie triumph 1917, rising thespian George MacKay stars as Kelly, with the script first showing his childhood upbringing, with youngster Orlando Schwertd cutting a strong impression as the youthful Kelly, with mischief brimming in his eyes. The story pivots when Kelly’s mother (The Babadook’s Essie Davis; notably, she and Kurzel are married) sells her son to infamous bushranger Harry Power (Russell Crowe, fat and bearded and absolutely awesome), with the two forming a unique bond which informs Kelly’s life in ways he couldn’t have expected. With his status as a bandit and outlaw quickly on the rise, Kelly forms a gang, and seeks to dispatch revenge-motivated vigilante justice to all of those who have wronged him and the people of his area.  The fine supporting cast also includes, Nicholas Hoult, Thomasin McKenzie, Sean Keenan, and Charlie Hunnam.

On a visual and aural level, True History of the Kelly Gang is one of the most distinctive films of the year, with consistently striking cinematography coming courtesy of Ari Wegner, who opted for a heightened pictorial style, never going over the top with any overt embellishments, but managing to be forcefully stylish at nearly every turn; it’s grimly elegant work. Jed Kurzel’s haunting musical score sets an appropriately sombre mood, while the superb production design by Karen Murphy never makes you think for a second that you’re not completely surrounded and engulfed in the distant past. The Blu-ray presentation by Shout! is excellent as usual in terms of the immaculate picture quality and fully-layered sound design (this film pops off the screen at times), and it’s yet another strong title to join their impressive library of cult-driven titles.

❉ ‘True History Of The Kelly Gang’ Blu-ray released September 8, 2020. Available in US from Shout! Factory: Product SKU: 826663211214. List Price: $18.97 USD. Available in UK: Buy now on iTunes | Buy now on Amazon | Buy now on HMV

 Nick Clement is a journalist for Variety Magazine and motion picture screenplay consultant, as well as a critic for websites We Are Cult and Back to the Movies. He wrote the introduction to the book Double Features: Big Ideas in Film, which was published by The Great Books Foundation, and is currently working on a book about the life and work of filmmaker Tony Scott. He lives in Connecticut with his wife and son.

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