Directed by David Michôd (2010)
jusco’s Rating: ★★★★1/2
David Michôd’s solid crime thriller from Australia lives up to all the hype and critical acclaim already lavished upon it. Not only does Animal Kingdom contain astounding performances, it is also perfectly paced with an engaging plot that isn’t overdone and stays true to the gritty realism of the ominous film. It begins with teenager ‘J’ Cody moving in with his grandmother, ‘Smurf’ Cody, who coincidentally happens to be the matriarch of a family drenched in crime. Her three sons, ‘Pope’, Craig and Darren, maintain all sorts of dealings, from armed robbery to drugs, and ‘J’ is naturally swept along into the ‘family business’ where dangerous repercussions await the entire Cody family.
I won’t dwell much on the plot itself so as to not spoil it for you, but be assured, though it may not be as thought-provoking as Memento, it’s got enough twists and turns to bewilder. The real treat here is the first-class acting from the entire cast, and out of the entire cast Ben Mendelsohn stole the entire show for me. His character ‘Pope’, the eldest Cody son, doesn’t make an appearance till about fifteen minutes in, but the moment he steps into the picture he chillingly captivates the audience with his foreboding eyes, facial expressions and vocal tone. I was immediately reminded of Anthony Hopkins in The Silence of the Lambs; Ben Mendelsohn was just as terrifying and eerie. I couldn’t help but watch in dreaded anticipation at his next move. I’m surprised and disappointed at the lack of nominations for any major awards for his performance; one of the best I’ve seen in a long while.
Other standouts include Jacki Weaver, rightfully nominated for an Academy Award for playing the mother of all mothers, ‘Smurf’. Calm, composed and cool are just three words to describe her character. In fact, we don’t even know what’s going on in her head except the fact that she’s an unbelievably tough yet loving grandmother. Who else has so much power over her tattooed three sons who are drug sniffers and murderers? Yet, they can only comply when she asks them to kiss her; they love her to death. Ironically sweet.
You can probably recognise Guy Pearce in his role as Nathan Leckie, the police officer who wants to help ‘J’ escape from the clutches of his family after they all find themselves involved in a messy situation. You’re made aware of the high quality of the cast when they act on par, or even exceed this veteran’s performance. And how about newcomer James Frecheville who plays our main, ‘J’? For the majority of the film, he understandably struggles to live up to the standard posed by his co-actors and actresses. His attempt at portraying a teen thrust into a highly unnatural style of living with colourful family members is rather stagnant and lacking proper emotional conveyance. Yet his turning point comes three-quarters of the way in, when he proves himself worthy of the role when he breaks apart in a bathroom with an intimate, solitary crying scene.
Animal Kingdom is a powerful film that examines seemingly strong but unstable family ties when caught in a web of deceit and murder. Every character is unique, their strengths and weaknesses coming into play whether it’s for better or worse. The performances and story are supported by the brilliant cinematography and soundtrack. You’ll be dumbstruck to the very end by one of the best thrillers you’ll stumble across that will completely blow your mind.