Film: Animal Kingdom


Cast includes: Ben Mendelsohn (Beautiful Kate), James Frecheville (first film), Jacki Weaver (The Two-Wheeled Time Machine), Guy Pearce (Memento)
Writer/Director: David Michôd (Netherland Dwarf)
Genre: Crime Drama/Thriller/Film Noir (2010)

In brief: “Mom’s gone and ODed. And now she’s dead,” is how 18-year-old J reconnects on the phone with his grandmother, aka Smurf. “I don’t know what I’m supposed to do.” J’s got no place to go. So Smurf brings him home to the family… a Melbourne family of cold-blooded armed bank robbers and drug dealers. Smurf is the head of the family, although she’s not directly involved in the family business. She’s just the head psychopath, which you’d never know it at first because she’s always sweet as pie. “She wants to be where ever the boys are.” And the boys are a diabolical, nerve-jangling brood of criminal sociopaths.

J’s a reluctant family member, and it’s his observation that under all the bravado is a knife-edge of fear… “Crooks always come undone,” and they know it… even if they won’t admit it. J is a tall, good looking young man, but on most levels, he’s a withdrawn child. His passive manner can easily be misunderstood, and the Codys are never quite sure how J fits in. During a road-rage incident J is tested, but it’s unclear if he passes or fails. In a family like this, it’s important to establish just who’s the lion in the animal kingdom… clearly J looks more like a lamb. And when the police turn up the heat on the Cody brood, it’s the lamb, who’s easiest to exploit. The lay of the land in this animal kingdom is as inhospitable as the Australian landscape… the only place for the lamb to hide is in plain site.

Don’t be deceived by this relatively low-budget Australian movie. Few Hollywood blockbusters deliver the raw tension of Animal Kingdom. There are no special effects, dramatic chases or exploited brutality, yet the film is disturbingly brutal. And it’s not just physical brutality. The psychological brutality… meticulously developed… is even more intense. Although this is a feature-film début for David Michôd, it’s almost pitch perfect. And the same could be said for first-timer, James Frecheville, who plays J with so much skill that even his blank stares speak volumes. The tension builds gradually… almost imperceptibly… until you realize there’s no escape. When you think you’re finally going to get a chance to catch your breath, it turns out you’re wrong. This one is packed with unexpected twists and turns. As Smurf says, “Sweetie… it’s a bad situation for everyone.”

popcorn rating

4 popped kernels

Raw power that’s in the storytelling… not in the high-budget special effects

Popcorn Profile

Rated: R (violence)
Primary Audience: Grown-ups
Gender Appeal: Macho
Distribution: Art house
Mood:  Somber
Tempo: Cruses comfortably  
Visual Style: Unvarnished realism 
Character Development: Engaging
Language: True to life
Social Significance: Pure entertainment

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