The Legend of Ben Hall

Who is Ben Hall? Australia’s first real outlaw and legend.

In the history of the establishment of Australia as a nation, many of the legends came from the ranks of the bushrangers. These were outlaws who would survive by stealing from people travelling on the roads between the cities of the young country. Before the infamous Ned Kelly was born, the man who earned the title of the ‘original outlaw’ in the land down under was Ben Hall. Many in this island nation, much less those off its fine shores, do not know the impact of this ranger on history and how he and his gang became the most wanted men in the British Empire.

Australian director Matthew Holmes worked for seven years to get an accurate depiction of Hall’s story to the big screen. This relatively unknown director introduces the world to Ben Hall and his gang toward the later stage of the bushranger’s life. He had come to a point where he wants to surrender to authorities, but is convinced to remain in his life of crime. John Gilbert and John Dunn convince him to continue in their underhanded trade with the end goal to leave the shores of Australia and get to the United States.

During this season of his life, Hall strives to make peace with the family that he left behind for his life on the range. In a story that mixes memories of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, The Man from Snowy River and Ned Kelly, Holmes shows the less than glamorous lifestyle of the outlaw, the tragic end of this mythical figure and why he became an Australian legend.

Even with the uncanny physical similarities to the the renegade, Jack Martin does prove his casting was more than aesthetic. He portrays the legendary figure in a quiet, brooding manner and seems to capture the essence of the tormented gang leader. The Home & Away graduate is surrounded by an admirable cast of characters who draw from the talent pool of other Australian productions.

The script and the filming are exceptionally methodical and capture the feel of the era. The primary element that The Legend of Ben Hall lacks is any additional lightness that comes from well placed humour. Jamie Coffa’s character is written with comedic intent, but he never quite achieves this goal. Without a lighter side to the story, the majority of the film remains in a dark and dense realm, which may be hard for some audience members to endure.

The quality of a film cannot be masked by a bigger budget or the acquisition of well-known talent. When a director like Matthew Holmes puts his heart on the screen, the passion can be seen despite the amount of money spent. The Legend of Ben Hall shows the dedication of a director who loves Australian history and tells the story in direct correlation with the expansive landscapes of the sunburned country. Holmes delivers a film that is stark, dry and surprisingly beautiful. He also manages to stay true to the Australian art form and celebrates the tragedy that is at the heart of most of the stories of this island nation. Even though it is far from being a perfect film, it is worth engaging with to learn more about Australian heritage and get a glimpse at what has made Australia the nation is has become.

REEL DIALOGUE: What are some of the bigger questions to consider from this film?

“The human heart is the most deceitful of all things, and desperately wicked. Who really knows how bad it is? Jeremiah 17:9

Why do we celebrate outlaws? We may relate with the likes of Ned Kelly, Jesse James or the fictitious, Robin Hood, because we think there is something noble in their actions. There might be something in their backstory that we can connect or we envy their willingness to go up against the system. The truth might be found all the way back at the beginning of humanity. In the original fall in the creation account of the Bible, it is shown that our very natures are drawn to the role of the outlaw.

The question is: Do we have to remain outlaws?

Passages in the Bible that answer both questions: Outlaw status – Genesis 3:1-24, Jeremiah 17:9, Psalm 51:5, Mark 7:21, Romans 3:10-18, James 1:13-15

Freedom from being the outlaw – John 3:16-17, Romans 2:6-8, 1 John 3:1-24

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Russell Matthews

Russell loves film and enjoys engaging in discussions about the latest cinema offerings and then connecting this with the Gospel. He has worked for City Bible Forum for over 10 years, is a reviewer for Insights Magazine and Entertainment Fuse and has a blog called Russelling Reviews. He moderates events for Reel Dialogue which connect the film industry with the general public.