Mick Jagger as Outlaw
Unable to support his family in the Australian outback, Ned Kelly (Mick Jagger) turns to stealing horses in order to make money. He gets more deeply drawn into the outlaw life, and eventually becomes involved in murders. Director Tony Richardson illustrates here the parallels between the American Old West and Australia of years past.
The film opens with a black and white prologue of Ned Kelly bravely going to his execution. Then it goes to Technicolor and Ned is seen in a flashback, coming home from jail after a three-year sentence. This scene is set in 1871. In the background we hear the voice of Waylon Jennings, as he sings Shel Silverstein’s lyrics, which tells of Ned’s hatred for the British rule and hope for Ireland to be a republic. Ned says a debt must be paid and he hears voices from his dead father that along with his own conscience tell him to seek revenge for what happened in Ireland. Thus begins his life of crime through Australia’s outback as he seeks justice for all the wrongs his people have suffered.
Ned begins by stealing horses after complaining about the unfair tax law on horses that stray, which favors the rich landowners. When he was just 20 he formed a gang causing him to hide the rest of his life from the police, who put a price on his head. When Ned’s mother (Clarissa Kaye) is jailed on a false charge of abetting criminals and is sentenced to 3-5 years, Ned offers to surrender in exchange for his mother’s freedom. When the authorities refuse the Kelly brothers go on a robbing rampage, burning mortgages of the poor found in postal vaults, and murdering some soldiers. Rampaging through the Outback they gather sympathy among the poor and lower classes, who don’t trust the police.
Kelly and his gang plan to ambush a train with British police, but someone Kelly trusted tips the police on the train and Kelly is trapped in a saloon. One of Ned’s brothers commits suicide rather than be taken alive. But Ned heroically has the police go after only him and his other brothers, as they become decoys so that the others in the gang can escape.
I found the plot and the film to be somewhat flat. There was very little emotion. Jagger had to work with a very dry and unpolished script and somehow the focus on Australia failed.
This was a flat presentation, hardly touching an emotional button on what all the fuss was about over Ned Kelly’s call for justice. Jagger didn’t have a prayer in succeeding in this dry script offered by Ian Jones and Tony Richardson. The story failed to focus on Australia, seemingly more of a British film than Australian. Under Richardson’s lackluster direction all Jagger seemed to do was proclaim his innocence and vow revenge, which soon became a shrill cry. If you want to see a better film about Ned Kelly, catch “Mad Dog Morgan” (76), a much truer and more daring version, with Dennis Hopper giving a much better characterization of Ned Kelly’s madness.
Kelly was a petty Irish thief returned to his family (who immigrated to Australia) after three years in prison. Constant battles with the corrupt lawmen see Ned’s poor mother thrown in jail as payback, and that sets Ned and his brothers (previously just horse thieves and petty criminals) on a life of robbery and murder. They now feel persecuted by an unjust, British-ruled society. This of course, makes Ned and his gang folk heroes among the lower class, anti-authority elements of society.
Tony Richardson’s direction and script, on which he collaborated with Ian Jones, do not delve too deeply into character. Nor are the principals’ motivations projected with relevance to untutored American viewers. “Ned Kelly” is somewhat pretentious folk-ballad fare that often explains little more than its action.
Like Jesse James and family, Ned Kelly, his mother, brothers and sisters are depicted as wronged, poor Irish farmers harried by English landowners and constabulary. Freed, after an unjust, three-year prison term for horse stealing, Kelly and his boys, with prices on their heads, conduct a gory but eventually tragic campaign to free their kind from their oppressors.
Visually this is a beauty but poor Mick Jagger looks more like an Amish preacher than an outlaw and when he says in the film, “Such is life” before he is hanged, you know he is glad to be done with it.” This film is worth seeing for those who want to see what Mick Jagger looks like when sporting an Abe Lincoln beard.” He is just never convincing. I really wanted to like this movie but unfortunately as Jagger has sung “you can’t always get what you want”.