In 2014 the prospects of a film based on the life and historical accounts of Australian Bushranger, Ben Hall only existed on a Kickstarter Fundraising campaign from writer/director Matthew Holmes. Little did I think what was originally pitched to be a 40- minute short would eventually expand to a full-fledged feature length Australian Epic.
My first viewing of the film at its premiere in Forbes, NSW was nothing short of 'surreal'. Never did I think I'd see a film that had so many years of development, be incredibly authentic, insightful and entertaining for an Australian Bushranger themed film. It was such a superb effort that paid off big time! even two years after I contributed to the film's crowed funding campaign, I'd finally see a film I think has the great potential to be a modern Australian Classic.
Firstly, Ben Hall is one of the most prolific Bushrangers to roam NSW, even in the overall history of Bushranging his name is overshadowed by Ned Kelly's reputation. Yet, no one can deny Hall's exploits and rich history that make him a legend of colonial Australia that's still celebrated today, though not as internationally well recognized as Ned Kelly. About a decade ago, I first heard of Ben Hall in a historical textbook back when I was in year 9 just learning about the bigger picture of Colonial History, unlike most of my classmates at the time I loved it and have since maintained a healthy passion for it.
The film's plot is centered on the last 9 months of Ben Hall's life, Ben (Jack Martin) has been living it quietly for a while, though the authorities are still after him and his reputation of being an outlaw still proceeds him. Eventually upon the return of his mate Johnny Gilbert (Jamie Coffa) and following them; John Dunn (William Lee), they decide to ride for one last time to gather enough money to leave Australia and head to California. The film follows their exploits and daring deeds to accomplish such a task, though they're thwart with hardships and moral conflicts especially when it comes to the life of Bushrangers.
The history behind these events are for one fascinating, the film maintains this fascination by giving each of the characters on screen enough depth and dimension to be invested in as well as understanding their conflicts when it came to endangering their family and friends who lived more comfortable lives than being outlaws on the run. Seeing these characters and events play out on screen that I only merely read about in various history books was both insightful and thrilling. The entire cast are excellent I commend all them for their roles, as do I for the production team behind the costumes, make up, sets, props and cinematography that really make the period stand out, I can't remember the last time I saw an incredibly authentic looking film set in Colonial Australia. Ronnie Minder's score also captures the awe-inspiring beauty of the Australian Bush and the thrill of the action when it plays out on screen.
When it comes to 'Bush Westerns' or what I like to call 'films centered on Bushranging made here in Australia', are something of a rare breed nowadays. They were very active from the early days of Australian Cinema from 1906 to 1920, even active in the 70s and 80s particularly on Australian Television. This film particularly shies away from being in any sense fictitious as Holmes has maintained a great sense of being both historically accurate to the period and events on screen as well as just being an entertaining film for that matter, shedding light on history that people may not be all too familiar with, making this the 'Definitive Ben Hall Film'. The action is also some the best I've seen from a Bush Western in years, really capturing the thrill and excitement of what adventure in Colonial Australia would be.
I absolutely love this film, it may as well be the finest Bush Western I've seen to date. People may talk about other Bush Westerns whether it'd be 'Ned Kelly', 'The Proposition', 'Robbery Under Arms', 'Mad Dog Morgan' or 'The Outlaw Michael Howe', 'The Legend of Ben Hall' however is my top pick for the genre. Even upon hearing the prospects of a trilogy where two other films centered on Frank Gardiner and John Vane who were connected to Ben Hall are to be made, make me evermore excited to see that Bush Westerns are coming back.
I highly recommend this gem of a film as it's an Australian story that needed to be told and is executed on screen with such rigorous passion and with such incredible talent. It's a film that's entertaining as it is insightful, based a true story etched into Australia's history and should really be seen to be believed.