Of course there is also a stigma that comes with attempting such a feat, and most of those who have tempted the task have failed. For every success story like THE PROPOSITION or THE MAN FROM SNOWY RIVER we get a handful of turkeys like QUIGLEY DOWN UNDER and MAD DOG MORGAN. It seems that our landscape, while suited perfectly for the classic “Western” is an untamed beast, charitable only to the tenacious few.
When you utter the term “bushranger” to anyone they will immediately think of Ned Kelly. He is iconic, and his story has become lore amongst Aussies, and yet our history showcases countless other outlaws, none of whom come close to the legend and notoriety that we've placed up ol' Ned. One of those characters was Ben Hall, the son of European settlers who abandoned a life of farming to become the Commonwealth's most wanted man.
THE LEGEND OF BEN HALL chronicles the final year of Hall's life while on the run with fellow bandits John Gilbert and John Dunn, and without the constraint of Aussie sacrosanct it presents an adventure that owes its form to the classic American “western” design. The big arid wide-shots and the gun toting choreography recall the films of old, where cowboys robbed stage-coaches and sheriffs hunted gun-slingers. And despite the harsh environments that these characters occupied, there's a necessary romanticism to their stories that makes for compelling entertainment.
The film began as a crowd-funded short and when the money raised far exceeded the goal, the film was expanded to become a feature. Director Matthew Holmes took ever dollar of the money raised and put it to use, and with the reassurance of new funding from various places he was able to deliver a smart, handsome and compelling western that sits comfortably amongst contemporaries such as THE ASSASSINATION OF JESSE JAMES and THE SALVATION
The cast are mostly unknowns lead by Jack Martin, whose credits consists of short films. He steps into Hall's boots and assumes the character with ease, offering a stern yet empathetic performance, and presenting a man whose criminal life bares a conscience. Martin is perfectly suited to the role and carries the film consummately. His supporting cast include Jamie Coffa and William Lee, both of whom also make their feature film debut. While Coffa's performance is uneven at times he brings a much needed jovial presence to the film - which helps keep the story textured – and Lee's turn as the 'rookie' outlaw brings a moral compass to the venture that keeps it on course.
Add brilliant cinematography, bang-for-buck production value and a well-measured score and you get an engaging true-story that offers an alternative narrative to the under-explored 'bushranger' genre. It avoids cliché while taking advantage of the 'western' tropes, and successfully makes an Australian story universal. Sadly, it is also a film that needs all the support it can get, because no matter how great it may be, it is still an in dependent film fighting for its place amongst the studio produce. See it on the big screen where possible, buy it on DVD when available and use your power of social media to promote the hell out of THE LEGEND OF BEN HALL, the first in a proposed trilogy of bushranger films.