The Legend of Ben Hall is a historical re-telling of the lesser-known Australian bushranger Ben Hall, in this entertaining Australian film.
Lesser-known that is only in comparison to Ned Kelly, who is Australia’s most popular bushranger. Kelly whom became notorious in Victoria, and Hall the same in New South Wales. The film follows Hall (Jack Martin) in the days after most of his gang had already been defeated, as he attempts to gather enough money by robbing the common folk in order to flee the country. He’s joined by fellow bushrangers John Gilbert (Jamie Coffa) and John Dunn (William Lee).
The story is about what you’d expect in a film about bushrangers, however there is also a personal touch injected into the film. Hall also has a wife and son that he’s been separated from, with the love for his son shaping some of his motives. It’s a good addition in what is otherwise a general bushrangers-robbing-folk type of story, and gives the audience more of an opportunity to empathise with the character. One thing about famous Australian bushrangers is their ability to win the hearts of their supporters, which in most cases is everyone aside from the police. The film tries to paint the picture that Ben Hall was generally a nice-guy, in an attempt to garner an emotional attachment to the character. It works for the most part, however some may still find it hard to really invest in the character.
Whether or not you do fall for Hall’s plight is purely subjective, though Jack Martin’s performance will help to get you there. Martin does a great job in the title role, the only caveat being he may have come across as a bit stern, which could be the reason why some may not get emotionally invested into the character. Nevertheless his delivery is convincing and should be praised. The same could also be said of Jamie Coffa’s and William Lee’s portrayals of John Gilbert and John Dunn respectively. Gilbert is the clown of the group, with his volatile nature often clashing with that of Hall’s. Coffa nails that aspect of his performance, making him a love-or-hate-him type character. Dunn in comparison seems unsure of himself and possibly in a bit over his head; the type of criminal that’s in the game due to a lack of better options. William Lee has the perfect look for this type of character and plays it well.
The Legend of Ben Hall has some excellent production design that manages to pull you in to the locations and the environment of the time. Set in the mid 1800’s, the landscapes, costumes and set design are all expertly crafted to transport you back into that period, adding to the overall authenticity of the film’s true story. Couple that with some beautiful cinematography, good editing, and an engaging score and we’re left with a film to please the senses.
As far as modern Australian films go, The Legend of Ben Hall is a standout. While it could have done more to up the ante on some the film’s narrative elements, such as the violence and drama, as a whole it generally works as a western-type drama and historical piece. The sum of all its good parts definitely makes up for any of its flaws, and considering films based on bushrangers don’t come around that often any more, this is certainly one to look out for.
Actors Jack Martin (Ben Hall) and Jamie Coffa (John Gilbert) bear striking physical resemblances to the historical characters they portray.