Mad Max meets Jesse James in this fictionalised portrait of legendary outlaw Ned Kelly in 19th-century Australia. After his father’s death, the infamous bandit grows up as the man of the house, and repeatedly clashes with the British authorities. Focusing less on bank robberies and chases, the film concentrates on power relations and the historical elusivity of Ned Kelly the character. Was he an anti-colonial Robin Hood resisting the British oppressor, an anarchist in a dress or simply a violent criminal? These aspects are all examined in the lead performance by George MacKay, constantly on the verge of bursting out of his sinewy body.
Justin Kurzel (Assassin's Creed, Macbeth) sees mainly causes in Kelly's dysfunctional youth – dismal early teenage years dominated by a difficult relationship with his mother and toxic masculinity – and argues that his deeds are at least as attributable to nurture as to nature. A cruel, 'punky' coming-of-age story about a vengeful, troubled rebel that has to end in an unconventional, visually spectacular confrontation.