Jack Martin, Jamie Coffa, William Lee
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…an impressive feature bold in its sense of ambition and rich with character-driven intimacy.
Proving (if any more proof were actually needed) that crowdfunding websites are no longer the singular domain of low budget niche projects (the film started life as an extended short), The Legend Of Ben Hall comes thundering over the cinematic hill in a sweeping, glorious surge worthy of a cash-pumped mainstream epic. It’s an inspiring sight, and while the seams sometimes show via a stilted quality in the acting and writing, this bushranger tale boasts an admirable sense of classicism and an engaging fondness and understanding of its central character. The madness of genre classics like Mad Dog Morgan and The Proposition might be missing, but the concerns of The Legend Of Ben Hall are considerably different: crime here is an act of workmanlike necessity, rather than the result of any feverish need to wreak havoc and rain down chaos.
Anchoring the film is young newcomer, Jack Martin, who cuts a fine figure as Ben Hall, all imposing height, wounded blue eyes, and slow burning charisma. His bushranger is an essentially decent man, avoiding violence and always attempting to complete his take-downs with minimal bloodshed. His principal offsider – Canadian born John “Happy Jack” Gilbert (played with manic but occasionally over the top energy by Jamie Coffa) – however, tends to reach for his irons first, which gets the pair (along with their callow new recruit, John Dunn, sensitively essayed by William Lee) into increasing strife with the law. Infamously plying his trade around NSW towns like Forbes, Bathurst, and Goulburn, Ben Hall’s final stand (okay, does anyone not know what happened to one of our most famous bushrangers? Just in case…spoiler alert!) gives the film an immediate and hotly contemporary edge, showing in no uncertain terms that police over-reaction is certainly not a new phenomenon.
Though slightly over-long at two-hours-plus, The Legend Of Ben Hall does a fine job of getting inside the head of the eponymous bushranger, playing out like a kangaroo western come psychodrama. Despite the seeming incongruity, it’s a combination that works extremely well, as it did in Andrew Dominik’s The Assassination Of Jesse James By The Coward Robert Ford, which would appear to be a major influence here. And while there’s a lack of assurance in some of the performances of the largely young and untried cast (thrown into further relief by the far more polished cameos from seasoned players like Callan McAuliffe, Andy McPhee, and Arthur Angel), The Legend Of Ben Hall always feels solid and well handled, with sophomore writer/director, Matthew Holmes (who debuted in 2007 with the low budget drama, Twin Rivers), proving equally adept with drama and action. He’s an exciting talent (his off-screen passion in getting projects off the ground is equally bracing), and with The Legend Of Ben Hall, he’s mounted an impressive feature bold in its sense of ambition and rich with character-driven intimacy.