Adapted from Robert Drewe's novel "Our Sunshine"--one of countless versions of the story depicted in Australian books, plays and movies--"Ned Kelly" follows the title character (a commanding Heath Ledger from "A Knight's Tale") from his early run-ins with rural police in his native Victoria state in the 1870s. The film's Ned isn't looking for trouble, but tensions between his Irish-Australian family and local cops lead to violence that forces him, right-hand man Joe Byrne ("The Lord of the Rings'" Orlando Bloom) and the other members of the Kelly Gang to take to the road as fugitive bushrangers. The string of robberies and other bold acts the gang commits in the ensuing months eventually threatens crown authority in the colony to the degree that an ace police superintendent (Geoffrey Rush from "Pirates of the Caribbean") is sent in to head an army-sized force to hunt down the Kellys--a situation that can only end in serious bloodshed.
In the hands of director Gregor Jordan ("Buffalo Soldiers") and screenwriter John Michael McDonagh, "Ned Kelly" is a classically structured wronged-outlaw tale with a gritty, authentic feel that hearkens back the rebel Hollywood westerns of the '60s and '70s. Details such as the film's stark Victoria locations and the clunky suits of steel armor the Kellys fashion for the climactic showdown root things in a distinctive time and place, allowing viewers to experience the familiar storyline in a fresh way. Starring Heath Ledger, Orlando Bloom, Geoffrey Rush, Naomi Watts, Laurence Kinlan and Philip Barantini. Directed by Gregor Jordan. Written by John Michael McDonagh. Produced by Lynda House. A Focus release. Action. Rated R for violence and brief nudity. Running time: 109 min