An unkempt, enjoyable retelling of the life story of an Australian legend, "Ned Kelly" splices the folk hero martyrdom of "Braveheart" with the bloody, roguish outlawry of Walter Hill's Jesse James western "The Long Riders" - without equalling either.
Australia, 1871, and the titular rebel (Heath Ledger) is accused of half-inching a horse. After clashing with a local copper, he goes on the run. Thanks to the venal, vicious nature of the police force, he finds himself a figurehead for the downtrodden public - a Robin Hood-style working class hero, together with his own wild bunch (which includes Orlando Bloom).
As this synopsis suggests, there is no clear-eyed revisionism in Gregor Jordan's wistful western. Kelly is the Mother Teresa of bankrobbers, a reluctant criminal who's regretful when violence proves necessary: keen to go home to his mum.
Such a goodie-goodie attitude could prove irritating, but Ledger is as likeable as ever - despite struggling manfully with an entirely pointless Irish accent. Kelly's parents were from Ireland, so chances are he boasted a brogue, but why strive for such authenticity, then shamelessly romanticise other elements? The most annoying of these is a romantic subplot involving Naomi Watts' married mistress, which wastes her talent and waylays the action.
And there is some impressive action, albeit great scenes rather than sequences: a dragged-up Bloom seeking revenge against his betrayer; a witty robbery in which thief and victims are schoolfriends; and a bloody, "Butch Cassidy"-style denouement.
There are grating, didactic moments ("I won't take this injustice!"), while Geoffrey Rush's superintendent is a role so underwritten it might qualify as a cameo. But star power pulls you through. Bloom, in particular, is brilliant, proving much more than a pretty face as Ned's right-hand man.
A rousing, watchable western then, if hardly to die for.