Thu 19 Aug 2010
Writer/director David Michôd has delivered something rather unique to audiences, a story about a criminal family devoid of the more common stereotypes one associates with the notion and restraining from the use of widespread violence in order to allow the brief explosions of anger or revenge to hit home that much harder.
“Animal Kingdom” opens to a not yet 18 years-old Joshua ‘J’ Cody (James Frecheville) waiting for emergency personnel to arrive after his mom overdoses on heroine. She had kept him far, far away from the rest of her family, worried their criminal enterprise (mostly armed robberies but dabbling in drugs as well) would swallow up her son. Without any choice but to rely on what family he has left, J moves in with his Grandmother (Jackie Weaver) – a seemingly sweet woman who is more like the female equivalent of the Godfather than one of Betty White’s adorable cinematic incarnations.
What follows is a trial by fire, as J is exposed to the allure of perceived power through the wielding of a gun and he struggles to retain his innate sense of morality as all of his Uncles (both real and honorary) are busy trying to avoid being captured or executed by a notorious Melbourne, Australia police service, who feel American Wild West justice is often better than worrying about pesky evidence or procedures.
The entire film is laced with tension, capably delivered by Michôd’s script and direction, coupled with excellent acting performances. While Weaver’s performance shines brightest, Frecheville portrays his character in a very natural and realistic manner, free of the showy artifices many young actors today might try to bring to the role.
And if one is looking for an alternate definition of scary, look no further than Ben Mendelsohn’s portrayal of Andrew ‘Pope’ Cody. The nominal ringleader of the crew (Weaver, in actuality, oversees the big picture), he exudes creepiness, unpredictability and danger. A simple scene of him asking a few questions turns into a interrogation the likes of which I would crack under like a broken egg in no time. I can think of no higher compliment than to say his performance is akin to that of Gary Oldman’s in “Léon” (aka “The Professional”). Yeah, it’s that good.
The only complaint I have with the film is a tacked on ending, seemingly for the sake of being clever. There’s a point at which the film could have faded to black, where all the loose ends were adequately covered and the uncertainty of the future would have resonated better and provided a better starting point for discussion afterwards. Although the actual conclusion to the events isn’t a bad one, utilizing the less is more approach to screen writing might have been a better way to go.
That being said, “Animal Kingdom” pairs nicely with “The Square” (both even feature Joel Edgerton), and it gets a solid 4 out of 5. Don’t be too surprised if you see Jacki Weaver’s name on the short list for supporting actress nominees when the San Diego Film Critics Society gets together and votes this December either. Fans of the genre should definitely get out to catch this film or at least make the effort to see it once it hits DVD.