Film Review – Animal Kingdom

When 17 year old J’s mother dies of a heroin overdose he goes to live with his estranged grandmother Janine and discovers that all of his uncles are involved in criminal activity.

He watches passively until events conspire and he becomes embroiled in a revenge plot that ends up having serious repercussions for all the family members.

If there’s one thing I regret about my self-imposed hiatus, it’s that I didn’t pimp Animal Kingdom out to you guys the way I should have.

Without doubt Animal Kingdom is one of the smartest films you’ll see this year, and you really should make every effort to see it. Gritty, exceptionally well paced and constantly surprising this is a film that really caught me off guard. The expectation at the start is that it is Josh’s story, and ultimately that’s true, but for much of the time he’s not centre stage.

Intially, focus is held by grandmother Janine (Jackie Weaver) and Josh’s uncles: Barry (Joel Egerton), Darren (Luke Ford), Craig (Sullivan Stapleton), and Pope (Ben Mendolsohn). The brothers are mostly involved with bank raids and as such are on the Most Wanted list, with the main target being Pope, the most dangerous and inflammatory of them all.

David Michod’s superb script and direction ensures that all the brothers are clearly delineates, Barry wants to go straight, Darren’s the scared one, Craig the twitchy one and Pope the sociopath. Guiding them all is Jackie, the most terrifying grandmother since Livia Soprano. Weaver’s performance is sublime, moving from sweetness and light to a steely resolve that comes as a shock when it finally emerges. Her Oscar nomination was very well deserved and she should have won. Let’s hope BAFTA don’t forget her next year.

James Frecheville is excellent as J. Spending most of his time bemused by the activities around him, he is a typical cypher of a 17 year old. He seems bemused and bewildered, suggestable, offering little editorial comment. And yet in the third act, you start to see him take action, in surprising ways. It’s a incredibly understated and mature performance of small glances and visible unease.

Meanwhile, oozing his way through the film is Dan Wylie as the Cody’s weaselly lawyer Eli. Wylie, last seen in Sanctum 3D, is as vile here as he is likeable in the former movie. It’s clear from Michod’s script and direction who we’re supposed to like, Guy Pearce’s good cop is clearly honest and true. He and Wylie are polar opposites while the Cody family are the shades of grey in between.

The film runs at nearly 2 hours long, but never drags. This is an intelligent film that recognises the need to build tension and expectations. Like Winter’s Bone, it chooses not to rush, but focus instead on interactions and tiny moments. Similarly it is another smart film about families and criminal behaviour that manages to wrong-foot and undermined expectations in the best possible way. See it. Trust me.


~ by moviegrrlreviews on March 24, 2011.

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