THE MOVIE: This star-studded 2003 Australian actioner didn’t hit American theatres for very long, if at all, which is too bad. Director Gregor Jordan (Buffalo Soldiers) shows himself a fan of the old-fashioned Western shoot-’em-up for his Ned Kelly, a reverent biopic about the legendary 1880s Aussie outlaw. And while the flick is little more than an average outing of mindless adrenaline, it’s visually lush entertainment. A horse-stealing charge scores 17-year-old Ned Kelly (Heath Ledger) a prison stretch, and he emerges the proverbially changed man, rousing up a gang—including sidekick Joe Byrne (Orlando Bloom, nowhere near as invincible as Legolas but still pretty fly for a white guy)—and knocking off banks. Jordan crudely casts this bush-wrangling as a form of social protest against a thuggish British colonial rule, but it’s basically all setup for a showdown between Kelly and his pursuer, Superintendent Hare (Geoffrey Rush). Jordan sadly takes a while to warm his action engine up, so turn off that part of the brain that does the thinking prior to pushing play. Just sit back and enjoy Oliver Stapleton’s atmospheric cinematography, Naomi Watts in period finery as Kelly’s obligatory upper-crusty romantic interest, and Rachel Griffiths’ cameo as a Kelly-gang wannabe.
THE DISCS: The so-called extras are sorely lacking in anything for Americans who might like to get to know this Ned Kelly chap a bit better. The “Ned Kelly in Popular Culture” short culls cast and crew interviews together to stitch a very flimsy idea of what they think/know about Kelly, and “The Real Kelly Gang” is a stills gallery of the man and his mates. But as for any better grasp of Kelly, an Australian folk hero who is virtually unknown outside his home country, you’d do better to look elsewhere. And if really entertaining Kelly accounts are what you’re looking for, try Peter Carey’s 2001 novel True History of the Kelly Gang or, for something completely different, Tony Richardson’s 1970 film Ned Kelly starring Mick Jagger, one of those late-1960s/early-1970s ego trips up there with Dennis Hopper’s The Last Movie and Michael Sarne’s Myra Breckenridge.