Film Review: The Legend of Ben Hall

by Evan Brown

Rated M. Starring James Martin, Jamie Coffa, Joanne Dobbin. Directed by Matthew Holmes.

As a child my father took me to the infamous Ben Hall museum in his home town of Forbes in country Australia.  My dad used to describe Ben Hall as just as fearsome as bushranger Ned Kelly but without the silly bucket on his head. I remember learning about all the things Ben Hall had done – hundreds of stage coach robberies, kidnapping, shoot outs with police and burning down houses and shops.  What a fearsome villain!

I was delighted to hear that the story of Ben Hall was being made into a feature length film.  Finally, someone had attempted to put the legend of Ben Hall onto the big screen.  What I was expecting was a dark and edgy film following the life of a ruthless bandit but what I got was a noble gentleman caught on the wrong side of the law.

The story of The Legend of Ben Hall is set towards the end of Ben’s career as an outlaw where Ben (Martin) and his gang John Gilbert (Coffa) and John Dunn (William Lee) decide to leave Australia and head for America.  Tickets to America weren’t exactly cheap in the 1800s so the boys must steal, lie and cheat to raise the money all the while being chased by the police and their friends who want their share of the reward for Ben Hall’s capture.

The world in general has a tendency to idolise villains in history to a point that they become heroes e.g. Billy The Kid, Suicide Squad, Ned Kelly.  We look for good qualities in their flawed villainous characters to justify our love for them.  In Ben Hall’s case it was his noble character encapsulated in his love for his son who was taken away from him.  In a dramatic moment where Ben pleads with his ex-wife to let him see his son he explains his main reason for being an outlaw saying “I just want him to know who his father is”.

Similarly, we all have a father desperate for his children to know who he is.  So much so that his entire creation proclaims him to us (Psalm 19). Jesus said “I am the way, the truth and the life.  No one comes to the father except through me.” (John 14:6).  The reason for our existence is to have a relationship with our Heavenly Father and that can only be achieved through Jesus Christ. Fortunately for Ben, his son acknowledged his relationship with his father.  Have you acknowledged yours?

On the surface level this film looks great.  You can tell that there has been a lot of effort and budget put into having period correct costumes, scenery, and props. A big pat on the back for whoever was in charge of those parts of the film.  However, where this film comes undone is in its poorly written script which is accompanied by some pretty average acting. 

There are a lot of cringe worthy moments throughout this film and you could possibly feel similar feelings to when you went and saw your little sister in that community play that one time (and vowed never to go again!).  The gun-toting shoot outs are monotonous and slow and make you wonder if these guys went to the same firearm school as the Stormtroopers from Star Wars.  The pacing is extremely slow (even for an Australian film) making the 134 minute runtime feel a whole lot longer.  I’m a big fan of Australian films like Lantana, Jindabyne, and The Hunter, however this film fails to meet the standard of what I would classify a good Aussie flick.

The Verdict: Unfortunately, The Legend of Ben Hall does not live up to the actual legend of one of Australia’s most infamous outlaws. 1.5/5

The Legend of Ben Hall releases in Australian cinemas from tomorrow.

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