Tag Archives: The Nightingale

True History of the Kelly Gang

1 May

‘True History of the Kelly Gang’: In the outback for a bloody, convoluted crime tale, clad in tulle

Kelly

Director Justin Kurzel jazzed up “Macbeth” in 2015, but that endeavor felt too overstylized to bear the bite of the Bard. Reteaming with Michael Fassbender and Marion Cotillard a year later, Kurzel found a better fit for his arthouse violence with the big-screen adaptation of the video game “Assassin’s Creed.” Now Kurzel enshrines Australia’s version of Billy the Kid – Ned Kelly – in “True History of the Kelly Gang.” In past variations the notorious outlaw was played by icons Mick Jagger (1970) and Heath Ledger (2003). Here it’s George MacKay (“1917”) in a shag mullet; like its predecessors, the take on Kelly by Kurzel is an alluring, muddled meander punctuated with madness, mayhem and tedious backstory.

The film, based on an award-winning 2000 novel by Peter Carey that played it loose with facts (“Nothing about this is true,” reads an opening overlay) the film is broken up into chapters: “Boy,” “Man,” “Monitor.” In “Boy” we get the lay of the land in two quick shakes as the young Ned (an angelic and androgynous Orlando Schwerdt) drinks in the sight of his mother (Essie Davis, Kurzel’s wife and the star of “The Babadook,” giving a fierce, compelling turn here) performing fellatio in a grimy barn on an expectant officer (Charlie Hunnam). Ned’s cuckold pa (Ben Corbett) who likes to dress in ladies wear, pulls the boy from the sight. Kurzel’s outback, like Jennifer Kent’s Tasmanian territory in “The Nightingale” (2019), is a grim, sexually charged place where violence seems on the edge of erupting in every frame.

Eventually Ned comes under the tutelage of Harry Power (a gruff, effective Russell Crowe), a notorious outback criminal – known as a bushranger, the equivalent of Old West outlaws in the United States. It’s horse thievery that puts the Kellys at odds with Hunnam’s officer and later, and far more drastically, with a sadistic constable (Nicholas Hoult) named Fitzpatrick who ingratiates himself to Ned and the Kellys while quietly poisoning them.

The dance with the law is a dicey one, but ultimately Ned falls outside it and forms a brigade of foppish fancies (as Carey’s book has it) who take no issue in cutting down quarry in lipstick and tulle. As depicted, Ned’s both Robin Hood and cold killer; Kurzel clearly wants to romanticize Ned while bathing him stylistically in blood, scene after scene, which is where the film begins to lose its hold on Ned the human being, sliding into ritualized retaliatory strikes. Kurzel takes some chances with the soundtrack with its occasional infusion of modern rock, and with chaotic body cam POVs that disrupt the gorgeous framing of the lush yet spare outback by Ari Wegner (“In Fabric”). MacKay as Ned is starkly overshadowed by Davis’s fuck-all mother and Hoult’s cunning manipulator – the scene where the two confront each other in tight confines late in the film is a powder keg of tension. The nearly final chaotic shootout, like “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid” with Ned and crew in metallic headgear made from farm plows, is done with gorgeously hallucinatory imagery rendered between bullet flashes and accentuated by a balletic rat-tat-tat. It’s one of the many alluring shards of the “Kelly Gang” that envelop the viewer for a moment, but never collectively get to the soul of the man at the epicenter.

The Best Films of 2019

29 Dec
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THE IRISHMAN (2019) Ray Ramano (Bill Bufalino ) Al Pacino (Jimmy Hoffa) and Robert De Niro (Frank Sheeran)

  1. Once Upon a Time in Hollywood
  2. Parasite
  3. Portrait of a Lady on Fire
  4. Aquarela
  5. Apollo 11
  6. The Irishman
  7. Long Day’s Journey into Night
  8. Aga
  9. Little Women
  10. The Farewell

Honorable mentions: Toy Story 4, The Nightingale, Ford v Ferrari, Bombshell, Us, The Last Black Man in San Francisco, Uncut Gems, Midnight Traveler, The Mustang, Pain and Glory

Also here are the Cambridge Day’s Arts Staffs’ 2019 Top 10.

The Nightingale

8 Aug

‘The Nightingale’: Stalking through outback, prisoner fights back against captor’s brutality

 

Image result for The nightingale

Jennifer Kent’s follow-up to her surprise indie horror hit, “The Babadook,” is something entirely different (from a mother and her child being stalked by an animated boogeyman), yet every bit as grim and harrowing – perhaps even more so, given that it plays along the lines of the historical. Set in the Tasmanian outback during the early 1800s, when it was still known as Van Diemen’s Land, “The Nightingale” is a power game-turned-thriller following Clare (Aisling Franciosi, who played Lyanna Stark in “Game of Thrones”), a young convict in a penal colony under the charge of a cruel British officer (Sam Claflin, who played Finnick Odair in “The Hunger Games”series).

Whatever the crime landing Clare on incarceration island, it’s not enough to merit the sadism of Hawkins, the man in charge. Initially he only makes Clare sing for him (thus the film’s title), but his demands become more invasive and physical. A flash retaliation by Clare’s husband Aidan (Michael Sheasby) launches a string of grim and mounting disciplinary retaliations that become so barbaric and graphic that the squeamish will likely need to avert their eyes or even take a loo break. (Folks walked out of the Sydney premiere in shock and beyond – feel free to Google it, but be warned that you’ll see some spoilers).

Clare and her husband have an infant daughter, so there’s more at stake than just dignity and doing your time. Not to tell too much, but Clare and Hawkins wind up in the wilderness stalking each other. Hawkins is joined by a small posse of equally malevolent underlings, while Clare follows a reluctant aboriginal guide named Billy (Baykali Ganambarr). Bloody games ensue.

The arc of “The Nightingale” essentially follows a pat revenge narrative, but the innovative Kent once again shoots something masculine and familiar through a different lens. The relationship with Billy, steeped initially in racism (whites shoot indigenous people just for a sideways glance) and necessity (Europeans can’t get a few hundred yards without a guide) blossoms into something more universal and human, casting pleasant shades of Nicolas Roeg’s mesmerizing 1971 Outback drama “Walkabout.” Franciosi and Ganambarr, a dancer by trade, are superb. Claflin is equally compelling, given the merciless nature of his character – though we do learn that the entitled megalomaniac has been slow to rise in rank, a trigger for his fiendish behavior. Also a win for Kent: the lush framing by cinematographer Radek Ladczuk of angry, jagged edges of imperialism and oppression that slice into nearly every frame. Like John Hilcoat’s bleak thriller, “The Proposition” (2005, scripted by Nick Cave), “The Nightingale” is something of a western in which laws, lawlessness, a sense of humanity and amorality all fold in on each other to dark, despairing effect. Kent again conjures up something provocative, disturbing and quite hard to swallow.