Review: The Legend of Ben Hall

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Jack Martin as Ben Hall.

The Legend of Ben Hall

stars

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.

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11 thoughts on “Review: The Legend of Ben Hall

  1. Jamie Cofta was far from cringworthy! I thought he was so good that at times I felt he upstaged the lead & was completely engaging. I loved his performance. The film would be less without him.

    • Disgree, Jamie Coffa was far too over the top, even the voice. Most people who I have talked to agree as well. Probably the weak link of the film.

  2. by all reports Happy Jack was well over the top if not a little bit insane if not psychotic given that its others opinions of him is all we have to go by ive seen the film and im proud to say that Lee-Anne and i invested money in it as others did i can say without any hesitation its probably the best money ive ever spent .Kevyn

  3. Great comments mostly but disagree totally about Jamie Coffas role, he was brilliant as the outspoken “couldn’t give a damn” bad guy John Gilbert. He gave great balance to the trio.

  4. The real John Gilbert was a flamboyant, eccentric psychopath. Say what you like about Coffa’s interpretation – at least it’s consistent with history.

  5. Truley TLOBH did please this hardcore history buff, including Jamie Coffa’s portrayal of John Gilbert. Far from being cringeworthy, Jamies’ portrayal represents a pretty accurate one, according to contemporary records. How you can praise Holmes attention to detail as “world class” then assume he got this ‘minor’ aspect, so dreadfully wrong, is simply mindboggling.

  6. Pingback: Cinema Australia 2016 Audience Award winner announced! | Cinema Australia

  7. Jamie Coffa portrayed Jonnie Gilbert
    according to the director’s ‘directing’.
    Historical records show that he was rather ‘out there’ & rather spontaneous
    & psychotic.I love his character!

  8. His portrayal of Happy Jack was spot on from an historical perspective…He was an erratice character perfectly portrayed by Coffa. Other up and comers like Lauren Grimson who played Christine McKinnon need to be watched over time.

  9. I’m not usually optimistic with Aussie films but I was impressed by this for reasons already mentioned. It was a low-budget film which did not appear to be a low-budget film.

    Furthermore, for me, some of the scenes would have felt a bit more monotonous if it weren’t for characters like the over-the-top Johnnie Gilbert to break it up, not to mention that it was good for historical accuracy.

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