This retelling of one of Australia's most infamous figures is brutal, shocking, anarchic, strangely beautiful, but above all, excellent. Despite its name, the movie is actually based on a fictionalized account of Ned Kelly's life -- a fact conceded in the opening credits -- as told in Peter Carey's 2001 Booker Prize winning novel. Fiction it may well be, but there's a realness to the movie that rings far truer than some of the other accounts of Kelly's life. Broken into three acts, the movie begins with a young Kelly -- a superb understated performance by newcomer Schwerdt -- being forcibly introduced into a world of crime. It's a backstory that provides the necessary humanity to, if not sympathize, understand the older more ruthless Kelly, now played by 1917's MacKay.
MacKay's performance is extraordinary -- at times resembling a muscle-ripped contortionist, while in others a confused onlooker trying to make sense of his place in the world. But this is no one person show. Essie Davies as Ellen, the Kelly matriarch, deserves a special mention. But there are also standout performances from Nicholas Hoult as Constable Fitzpatrick and a grizzled Crowe as Harry Power, Kelly's mentor and father-figure. It's a credit to director Justin Kurzel's ability to obtain such powerful performances from all his cast. How Ned Kelly should be viewed in history continues to divide opinion. Freedom fighter or murdering criminal? True History of the Kelly Gang doesn't answer that question, nor does it try to. But as contradictory as it sounds, for a fictional account, such is the realism of the movie, this may be the most honest account of a man enshrined in folklore.