Mick Jagger hasn't had much of a film career after his debut in
1970's Ned Kelly, and as film-goers we should breathe a sigh of relief for that. His performance as the
titular Australian outlaw is bad. Appallingly bad. But then again, so
is the rest of the film.
The film's opening, a stylized black-and-white flash-forward to the
end of Ned Kelly's story, ought to be dramatic and intriguing, but it
ends up seeming just rather peculiar. Once that's out of the way,
we're taken to the beginning of the story: in 19th-century Australia,
a young man named Ned Kelly has just gotten out of prison on what he
claims are false charges, and sets off to rejoin his mother and
siblings as they try to scrabble out a life on the outback. The fact
that this information is presented through a very cheesy sung
voiceover, with silent images of Kelly's emotional return in the
background, is not promising.
It doesn't get any better. Miscellaneous scenes show Kelly trying to
get back to a normal life, but life really is hard, and it doesn't
help matters that the local police are hardly more civilized than the
lawless types who roam the outback. One thing leads to another, and
Kelly turns to a life of crime and ends up on the run. At this point,
I think we're supposed to be captivated by the drama of the whole
thing, and though we know how things turn out in the end, I think
we're supposed to be interested in exactly how events take their
course. That's in theory: in practice, it's dull and pointless.
The premise of Kelly facing hopeless odds and still remaining defiant
might have worked if the film had had a different lead actor. Jagger,
though, is simply dreadful. Not only is his acting wooden and utterly
unconvincing, but he doesn't even seem to be able to deliver his
lines properly: he recites, rather than speaks. Not that the dialogue
is anything to write home about to begin with; the other actors have
a hard time making their characters even remotely credible as well.
The film's only potential saving grace might have been that it looked
good, but that falls through as well: the cinematography is ho-hum,
and apart from a few shots of sunlit horizons and scampering
kangaroos, there's little evocation of Australia despite the fact that it was filmed entirely on location.
MGM's bare-bones release of Ned Kelly is distinctly sub-par,
much like the acting in the film. Presented in a non-anamorphic
1.66:1 widescreen aspect ratio (the film's correct theatrical aspect
ratio), Ned Kelly looks dark and muddy in all but the most
brightly lit scenes. Whenever the sun is shining strongly, we do get
some reasonably good colors, but in any scene that doesn't have full
lighting, everything turns muddy and dull. Scenes that actually have
some shadows are far too dark, with detail vanishing in blackness.
The Dolby 2.0 soundtrack for Ned Kelly is as unpleasant as the
video transfer. The volume is erratic: action scenes are much louder
than dialogue scenes, and within dialogue scenes the volume sometimes
dips further, making dialogue seem to trail off into mumbles. Loud
sounds are harsh, and quieter ones are muffled, and a few scenes have
some strange echoing effects thrown in for good measure.
A Spanish Dolby 2.0 soundtrack is also included.
There are no special features here, which is a bit of a mercy, as it
saves viewers from having any second thoughts about skipping this
acted and cheesy-looking film with a dreadful transfer, Ned Kelly
is a film that's best avoided at all costs. The only notable aspect
of the film is that it's the debut feature film performance by Mick
Jagger of The Rolling Stones, but since his performance is terrible,
that's hardly something to recommend it by. Skip it.