10 years after a global economic collapse, a hardened loner pursues the men who stole his only possession, his car. Along the way, he captures one of the thieves' brother, and the duo form an uneasy bond during the dangerous journey.
Despite being no saint herself, Julia Cody has shielded her seventeen year old son, Joshua "J" Cody, from her Melbourne-based criminal relatives who they have not seen in years. After Julia dies in front of J's eyes from a self-inflicted heroin overdose, J, who is slightly detached from life, feels he has no choice but to contact his maternal grandmother, Janine "Smurf" Cody, the family matriarch, for a place to live. Smurf rules the family with a borderline incestuous love over her three sons, the quietly menacing Andrew "Pope" Cody, the hyperactive Craig Cody, and the barely of age Darren Cody. Pope and his best friend, Barry "Baz" Brown, are armed robbers, with Darren their up and coming apprentice, while Craig is a mid level drug dealer. Melbourne's Armed Robbery Squad is after specifically Pope, who is hiding out. But when the standoff between the Codys and the Armed Robbery Squad is brought up a notch, an all out war ensues, with some casualties and J caught in the middle. The ... Written by
Greetings again from the darkness. An Australian movie that packs a wallop! Writer/Director David Michod delivers an unsettling look into one family's life of crime and corresponding order of things - the circle of life in the Animal Kingdom. Supposedly based on a true story, this is a tough family that you would not want as neighbors. These aren't Scorcese's smooth operators from "Casino" or "Goodfellas". No, these guys are worse.
The matriarch is played chillingly by Jacki Weaver. She is mother or grandmother to the guys (except for one outsider) in the band of crooks. While she messes with your mind through the story, it's not until the final 15 minutes when she really kicks it up a notch and becomes flat out frightening in her power.
There are only a couple of actors that most people would recognize. Joel Edgerton plays the outsider in the group, and the one trying to go straight by playing the stock market with his "earnings". The other is Guy Pearce, who plays the detective trying to both solve the cases and rescue young Josh, played by newcomer James Frecheville.
Not only is this the type of story that sucks you in, it is a reminder of just how distracting movie stars can be a to film. The lack of stars allows us to really be absorbed into this family, or better, this world of crime, deceit, corruption and paranoia. There is not a single superstar who appears - one who can capitalize on his film history of characters and immediately generate recognition. Here, the viewer must get to know an entire family for who and what they are. This is powerful stuff for a film lover.
The winner for best psychopath is Ben Mendelsohn as Pope. His dead eyes will scare you. His demeanor will scare you. His actions will disgust you. There are two lines in the film that help us make sense of what occurs. Early on, the narrator tells us that "all crooks come undone" at some point. Later, the detective (Pearce) tells us that in the Animal Kingdom, you are either weak or strong. The lines seems pretty clear.
The focus of the film is on Josh (Frecheville) who gets plopped into this family of criminals after his mom dies of an overdose and he calls his grandmother (Weaver). Josh spends the rest of the film trying to blend in while staying clean. Of course, even his stoic mask doesn't save him from the path of destruction created by Pope.
In the end, the film is about survival, adaptation and defining what really defines strong and weak, good and bad. If you enjoy powerful crime thrillers, this one is worth checking out ... and be appreciative for the lack of Hollywood star power. That's part of why it works!
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