The film starts out with a young Ned Kelly rescuing a young boy from drowning. It then pans to the Australian bush with Ned talking about his father. He then awakens in the Australian outback and sees a white mare. He rides it into town, only to be arrested and subsequently imprisoned in 1871, for supposedly stealing the horse, even though it had actually been stolen by Wild Wright, Ned's friend.
Two years later he is released and comes home to a warm welcome from his Catholic Irish family. The Kelly family are seemingly working to get ahead in life, by owning horses and farming. One night at a bar, a local Victoria Police Officer named Fitzpatrick, offers to buy Ned's sister a drink.
After several attempts, Kate insists she doesn't want one. Ned intervenes and hostilities ensue when fellow officers help Fitzpatrick. Getting back at Ned, the Victoria Police Officers confiscate the Kellys' horses. Ned, his brother Dan and their friends Steve Hart, Joe Byrne, Aaron Sherrit and Wild Wright steal back their horses. One evening later, Fitzpatrick arrives at the Kelly house, while Ned is away, to visit Kate, only to be told that she doesn't want to see him. Fitzpatrick tells them they have warrants for them, for horse stealing. A fight ensues and Fitzpatrick returns to the police office, telling the others that Ned Kelly shot him.
The police then arrest Ned's mother (in Ned's absence). Ned, Dan, Steve and Joe become outlaws on the run. They later meet some Police in the Victorian bushlands and kill Constable Lonigan and two other Officers in a shootout. For the following months the "Kelly Gang" avoids capture, living in the outback, often without food. The Colonial Government sends in Superintendent Francis Hare, who arrests many people including Aaron. Aaron, being told that they don't want to harm his friend Joe, but only want the Kellys, provides a location where the gang might be. Joe learns of this and arrives one night armed with a loaded shotgun and kills Aaron for being an informant.
The next day the Kelly Gang take over the town of Glenrowan, taking seventy hostages at the Glenrowan Inn, but also winning the trust of the townspeople there. Hare and the Police are set to capture the gang as their train is saved from derailment by an escaped hostage. The police then lay siege to the inn at dawn. The Kelly Gang, using plate metal body armour, emerge from the inn and begin shooting, but are forced inside again. Joe is subsequently shot and dies inside the inn. Morning passes, and the police wonder where the outlaws are. Ned then re-emerges from the inn but is shot in the arms and legs and falls. Dan and Steve, down to their last bullets and knowing all is lost, commit suicide. Ned regains consciousness and even though gravely injured, continues to fire at the police. He finally is shot to the ground and taken down.
Ned is loaded onto a train, and Hare asks if he may have the beloved green sash. The train then steams away. It is noted that even with a petition of over 30,000 signatures for mercy, Ned Kelly was sentenced to death for the murder of Constable Lonigan and hanged at Old Melbourne Gaol on 11 November 1880.Heath Ledger as Ned Kelly
Orlando Bloom as Joe Byrne
Geoffrey Rush as Superintendent Francis Hare
Naomi Watts as Julia Cook
Joel Edgerton as Aaron Sherritt
Laurence Kinlan as Dan Kelly
Philip Barantini as Steve Hart
Kerry Condon as Kate Kelly
Kris McQuade as Ellen Kelly
Emily Browning as Grace Kelly
Erika Felton as young Ellen Kelly
Kiri Paramore as Constable Fitzpatrick
Rachel Griffiths as Susan Scott
Geoff Morrell as Robert Scott
Charles Tingwell as Premier Graham Berry. Tingwell previously narrated The Glenrowan Affair, a 1951 film based on Kelly's life.
Andrew Formosa as Park Ranger
Saskia Burmeister as Jane Jones
Talia Zucker as Sarah Wicks
Jonathan Hardy as The Great Orlando
In total, the film grossed $5,040,860 domestically, $86,959 in the United States and $6,585,516 worldwide. The film received mixed reviews, with a 56% Fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes, with an average rating of 5.7/10 based on 54 reviews. The critical consensus states that "More depth about the legendary outlaw would be welcome, but as it is, Ned Kelly is a reasonably entertaining Western." A review of the film comments "Heath Ledger gives a solid performance in the lead but Orlando Bloom and Geoffrey Rush are woefully underused." BBC film reviewer Nev Pierce gave the film 3 out of 5 stars, stating "there is some impressive action, albeit great scenes rather than sequences", concluding with "a rousing, watchable western". Jay Richardson from FutureMovies.co.uk stated "this is a competent and blandly enjoyable film with a solid central performance from Heath Ledger". Megan Spencer from ABC.Net said "Thankfully Ned Kelly is a very cinematic Australian film, the international and local cast and crew made the most of their $30 million budget. And some of the best sequences are due in part to Heath Ledger's well delivered internal dialogue voice over, giving an inner life to the musings of a troubled anti-hero". Clint Morris, a reviewer from Film Threat, who gave the film 3 and half stars out of 5, said "It’s an exciting movie filled with plenty of action, adventure, beautiful cinematography and best of all, terrific performances" while praising Heath Ledger: "Heath Ledger is fantastic as Kelly. He gives a very immersing performance, and has misshapen himself into the character. When he wears that infamous tin helmet in the finale, we actually feel that’s the real deal".
More critically one review describes the battle for Glenrowan, with masses of police and civilian casualties, along with a lion and monkey as "fictional nonsense".