The Legend of Ben Hall
Written & Directed by Matthew Holmes
Starring Jack Martin, Jamie Coffa, Joanne Dobbin, William Lee, Andy McPhee and Pia Grace Moon
“Epic. A triumph.”
by Matthew Eeles
There’s this frustrating, negative dialogue which unwelcomely rears its ugly head from time to time within our filmmaking industry. It’s about Australian feature films and why audiences don’t flock to cinemas to see them. The bottom line is that most film industries around the world are built on big names with proven success – Pitt, Clooney, Bay and Tarantino come to mind.
The Australian feature film industry on the other hand is mostly made up of first timers. Passionate, hardworking, dedicated artists who put their blood, sweat and tears into their craft, often for very little reward and no return.
There aren’t enough discussions being had about how many films released this year are by directors making their feature film debut – I can think of a dozen right off the top of my head.
If only local audiences were more willing to take a chance with the no-namers in Australia. There’s nothing quite like watching a filmmaker’s work prior to them being overtaken by technique, and director Matthew Holmes is no exception.
Holmes’ epic debut, The Legend of Ben Hall, is a true triumph and one which deserves to be celebrated. It’s an ardent account of the Ben Hall legend – an Australian bushranger whose story is nowhere near as famous as Ned Kelly’s but just as compelling.
Inspired by the return of his old mate, John Gilbert (Jamie Coffa), Ben Hall reforms his old gang with newcomer John Dunn (William Lee) in tow. After killing two policemen in a botched holdup the government declare the gang outlaws and they’re now outrunning do-gooders eager to fill them full of bullets in return for an attractive cash reward.
Holmes’ attention to detail is world class. From the costumes to the production design, props and set construction, The Legend of Ben Hall will please even the most hardcore historian. It’s breath-takingly captured by cinematographer Peter Szilveszter and bolstered by a powerful soundtrack composed by Ronnie Minder.
While this tale is both educational and captivating it’s not without its flaws. It sometimes gets bogged down during a few fluffy moments involving Hall’s ex and their son but it’s quick to move on. Some of the performances are a little frustrating too. Jamie Coffa’s portrayal of Hall’s maniacal offsider, John Gilbert, is cringeworthy. It’s so over the top and Joker-like that you half expect him to start shouting, “bring me the Batman!”
Those minor negatives aside, The Legend of Ben Hall is a worthy addition to an incredible line-up of Australian films released this year. While most of the cast and crew are no-namers now, once this reaches a larger audience they’re sure to become names that will be spoken about for years to come.
The Legend of Ben Hall is in cinemas from December 1. Screening details here.