True History of the Kelly Gang Explained: What’s Up With the Ending?

Pros: cast; unusual camera techniques are more of a plus than a minus Cons: not the most successful attempt at interpreting a famous personality; a set of scenes that turns into absurdity; the inability to clearly convey the motives of the central character “True History of the Kelly Gang” / True History of the Kelly Gang

Drama genre
Directed by Justin Kurzel
Cast: George MacKay (Ned Kelly), Essie Davis (Ellen Kelly), Charlie Hunnam (Sergeant O’Neill), Russell Crowe (Harry Power), Nicholas Hoult (Constable Fitzpatrick), Sean Keenan (Joe Byrne), Jacob Collins-Levy (Thomas Curnow), Thomasin McKenzie (Mary), Claudia Karvan (Mrs. Shelton), Marlon Williams (George King), Earl Cave (Dan Kelly), etc.
Porchlight Films, Daybreak Pictures, Film Victoria
Year of release 2019 (in Ukraine 2020)
IMDb website

Ned Kelly was a real-life Australian outlaw of Irish descent who died in 1880 at the age of 25. Despite the fact that Ned did not live long, he managed to become famous for the daring robberies that he committed together with his accomplices. To protect themselves from bullets, they put on homemade iron armor, which later made them the heroes of numerous legends. In addition, Kelly considered himself an enemy of the British colonial authorities, so he quickly gained the status of a folk hero.

Naturally, they tried to film the life of Ned Kelly, more than once. In 1970, a film appeared with Mick Jagger in the title role, where the musician seemed to be trying to behave sedately, but the perky script and accelerated editing of the film alienated him from the drama (which, by the way, is extremely interesting to watch now). And in 2003, a more serious film with Heath Ledger was released – almost every scene in it was emphasized with musical accompaniment, which added a special bombast to the film.


The new film “The True History of the Kelly Gang” is not like its predecessors. One might even say that he is trying in every possible way to be different, reinterpreting the biography of the robber. The film begins with Ned Kelly’s youth – the viewer is shown how his character was tempered, highlighting the ambiguous influence of the mother on her son. The film then flashes forward several years to reveal an adult Ned who is discovering his rebellious streak. He gradually transforms into a person making attempts to write criminal acts into history.


It’s worth noting right away that this is an extremely strange movie. Although his screenplay is based on the book by Peter Carey, for which the author won the Booker Prize, a considerable amount of madness was added to it. Director Justin Kurzel (who worked on the Assassin’s Creed feature film) decided to turn Ned Kelly’s biography into an outlandishly dirty drama that gradually loses any connection with reality.

In principle, True History of the Kelly Gang could become a little-known film that would be considered a valuable find for connoisseurs of inscrutable arthouse films. But the cast still attracts attention to the film, and the tempting form of a Western suggests that there will be shootouts on the screen. And then suddenly, for the unsuspecting viewer, flashing flashes of light are shown, reminiscent of a techno party.


Yes, at some point in the story from the 19th century, unexpected visual elements appear, tearing the heroes out of mundane reality. At times, cameraman Ari Wegner switches to hallucination mode, reshaping events in a new way. In addition, a desert area dotted with dried-out trees constantly appears in the picture, which extremely persistently emphasizes the alienation in which the Kelly family lives.

It is difficult to understand from the film what Ned Kelly’s personality really is. He, constantly present on the screen, remains an unsaid character (both in aspects of his personal life and in his protest beliefs). It should be noted that the real Ned left behind a letter in which he explained the reason for his hostility towards the English colonial authorities. But Ned from the film rushes about in chaotic statements and actions, losing all reason.


The creators of “The True History of the Kelly Gang” make it clear before the start of the film that what is happening in it is more fiction than truth. At the same time, the screenwriters still manage to pepper the script with bibliographical references. The result is a comprehensive story with a dense set of scenes that hastily introduce new characters without having time to properly introduce them.

To all this, director Justin Kurzel adds a modern spirit of rebellion, turning the Kelly legend into a punk confession. This paradoxical action stretches out over two hours, which are very tedious for those who know the legend of Kelly, and completely painful for those who are not familiar with it.


Sometimes the film is saved by familiar actors appearing in the absurd flow of events. The central character is played by George MacKay (starred in the 1917 war drama), and in addition to Russell Crowe (at one time he also played a folk hero in the film Robin Hood), other familiar artists periodically join him. Among them are Charlie Hunnam (King Arthur: Legend of the Sword), Nicholas Hoult (Tolkien), Thomasin McKenzie (Jojo Rabbit) and Essie Davis (Game of Thrones). I would like to see each of them in a more down-to-earth Western, but for now we have to settle for a controversial film adaptation.


a very strange interpretation of the life of a famous Australian bandit from the director of Assassin’s Creed. The film loses all meaning if the viewer does not know the story of Ned Kelly in advance.

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