THE LEGEND OF BEN. HALL. Starring: Jack Martin, Jamie Coffa, Joanne Dobbin, and Zane Cjarma. Directed by Matthew Holmes. Rated M (Mature themes, violence, coarse language, and brief nudity). 134 min.
This Australian historical drama is based on the story of Ben Hall, one of Australia's most famous bushrangers. The film focuses on the last 9 months of Ben Hall's life, as he rode with fellow-gang members, John Gilbert and John Dunn.
The film was photographed in regional Victoria, and the Director of the film (Matthew Holmes) has made a determined effort to make the movie as accurate as possible, reflecting Ben Hall's bush ranging escapades around Bathurst, Forbes, Gundagai and Goulburn. The movie has been pre- released in NSW country towns, to celebrate the 150th anniversary of Hall's death in parts of the country where Hall was an especially important part of its history.
After two years bush-ranging, and with the law closing in, Ben Hall (Jack Martin) was giving serious consideration to surrendering to the law, when his old fried, John Gilbert (Jamie Coffa), a former gang member, talked him into becoming a bushranger again. Gilbert was already in trouble with the Police and didn't have a great deal to lose. Hall agreed, he took on John Dunn (William Lee) as a new and nervous recruit, and the the three of them continued their rampage.
With a spate of daring robberies behind them and the death of two policeman, one of whom was a respected father of eight children, they became the most wanted criminals in Australia. Ben Hall and his gang were declared outlaws for their crimes, and the law says that outlaws can be shot on sight. A trap was set for them with the help of a person, they considered a trusted friend, and what follows became bush-ranging history.
The movie centres itself around the betrayal of Ben Hall and his death at the hands of Police on May 5, 1865. The film doesn't explore why Hall became a bush-ranger, but dwells on the consequences of him deciding to be so. It interestingly projects Hall as experiencing the turmoil and conflicts of life which included a wife (Joanna Dobbin) who deserted him to marry a man he hated, and his losing a son, Henry (Zane Ciarma), who he considered was taken away from him. Hall was in turmoil, knowing that his son would never know him as a father. Ben Hall became loved and hated. He was hated by those who were victimised by his gang's robberies, and among those who knew him he was loved by a network of friends who understood him and accepted what he was doing, as if he "had no other recourse".
In the movie, detailed attention has been given to costuming, weaponry and dialogue, but not to the development of its various characters. The film is ultimately a historical-action movie with repeated shoot-outs, that are staged impressively. The brutality of Hall's death, for example, leaves nothing to the imagination. His final execution, which is photographed beautifully, raises fascinating questions why the Police kept pumping their bullets into a dead man, who never fired his pistol.
In running so true to what actually happened, the narrative of the movie is told heavily with the result that the film's script comes across as disappointingly wooden. Typical of good quality Australian outback movies, however, the cinematography is outstanding, and the movie is visually appealing. The photography vividly captures the essence of outback Australia, where rural Australia is sweeping, dry, and majestic, and excellent use is made of aerial and long shots to enhance the beauty, or drama, of what is happening.
There is much still to be told about Ben Hall's career as an outlaw, and there is talk of making another two movies in a trilogy of films dedicated as companion pieces to this story.
Peter W. Sheehan is Associate of the Australian Catholic Office for Film and Broadcasting
Released December 1st., 2016.