Most people probably think of Ned Kelly as a kind of colorful Australian Butch/Sundance character who eventually met his comeuppance. Not so, according to Peter Carey, whose maniacal punk western novel is the source material here. 

Apparently he was an bushranger driven quite mad by England’s bloody and uncompromising oppression in the mid-19th century. This is the brutal, highly stylized tale of how his mother groomed him from birth for the brief rebellion he and his frock-clad gang ultimately launched. 

Director Justin Kurzel‘s (Macbeth, Assassin’s Creed) filmmaking skills raise this to art film status. His take on the legendary outlaw is gut-wrenchingly violent and nightmarishly poetic. It is not an easy sit, and for me it was one of those movies that’s easier to admire than to enjoy.

The acting, by George McKay (unsettling) in the title role and Nicholas Hoult (criminally louche) as his British nemesis is spot-on, and not enough can be said about the amazing Essie Davis in a fierce performance as Ned’s highly complex mother (a, um, sex worker).

Despite the title, the movie kicks off with a note saying that “none of this is true.” That does not, however, detract from its visceral energy. (124 min)

Japan release date: June 18, 2021