Movie Review: Animal Kingdom
Animal Kingdom (2010)Reviewed by Holly N Richards
Animal Kingdom is director David Michôd’s debut feature film inspired by the real events of the Walsh Street police shootings in Melbourne in the late 1980’s. Recipient of the World Cinema dramatic Grand Jury prize at the 2010 Sundance Film Festival, Animal Kingdom, along with recent critically acclaimed films Balibo and Prime Mover are part of Screen Australia’s bid to put Australian filmmaking on the map once and for all.
The film is set to the backdrop of Melbourne in the late 1980’s where a thriving underbelly of criminals are being brought to justice in a most unconventional manner by special police task forces. When seventeen-year-old Josh Cody (J), played by newcomer James Frecheville, is left orphaned by his mother’s heroin overdose, he is forced to live with his grandmother (Jacki Weaver) and criminal uncles Craig (Sullivan Stapleton), Darren (Luke Ford) and Pope (Ben Mendelsohn) who is in hiding. It is clear in the beginning scenes that J, marred by a turbulent upbringing has learned that emotional distance and teenage apathy are essential for surviving in a family so closely monitored by the police. J’s need to protect himself is asserted immediately upon joining the family when a shocking tragedy prompts the resurfacing of the most culpable of his uncles, Pope. After Pope and his brothers seek revenge for the tragedy befallen them, J is placed in the uncomfortable position of being questioned by the police. When detective Nathan Leckie (Guy Pearce) sees a flicker of hesitation during J’s statement he attempts to convince him to turn against his uncles.
Since Underbelly the crime drama genre is not something foreign to Australian film and television. Animal Kingdom however lacks the glamour and sex appeal of Underbelly, instead uncovering a darker, grittier, more personal criminal existence. David Michôd’s dark lighting and haunting, atmospheric score create chilling scenes.
Planet earth’s animal kingdom is made up of those with backbones and those without. By the conclusion of Michôd's film it is clear which characters fall into each category. Michôd's characters are so nearly monsters but avoid alienating audiences with moments of closeness, loyalty, doubt and humour.
Animal Kingdom has a stellar Australian cast with a familiar face popping up every few scenes. From cameo appearance by Shane Jacobson's brother, Clayton, as J’s girlfriend’s father to Jacki Weaver’s complex, suspicious performance as the snake-like head of the family, ‘Smurf’, the acting in this film is exceptional. Guy Pearce is subtle and brilliant as always as the weathered detective but it is Ben Mendelsohn who provides the stand-put performance. His portrayal of the paranoid, malevolent Pope (reminiscent to an extent of John Jarratt’s performance in Wolf Creek) is terrifyingly brilliant.
The film moves at a steady pace with breathtakingly dramatic moments making up for any lapses until the last twenty minutes which could be tightened. Argument can be made however whether a more succinct final chapter would detract from the powerful final scene.
While Animal Kingdom may not be for everyone there is no denying it is a superb film and if this is an indication of where Australian film is headed, global audiences have much to look forward to. Animal Kingdom is in cinemas June 3.
Find out more online @ www.animalkingdommovie.com
***UPDATE 12 Dec 10: Congratulations to cast & crew for AFI success!***
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