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The backdrop to this movie is Melbourne, Australia in the mid-1980's,
which (according to the director) had one of the highest per-capita
murder rates in the world. At the time, there were several deaths in
Melbourne in which wanted and suspected criminals were killed by the
police under suspicious circumstances. These killings in turn
supposedly ignited a slew of retaliatory murders perpetrated on police
officers (cf. the "Walsh Street" police shootings).
This is a movie about a young man (Josh or "J," played by James Frecheville) whose extended family are all criminals. Using the character of seventeen-year-old J as a sort of catalyst, the movie explores a variety of crime-related issues, from the effects of growing up in a world where criminal activity is the norm, to the escalation of crime that is a natural consequence of vigilantism (especially when the vigilantes are police).
The characters are all played very well, with exceptionally good performances given by Ben Mendelsohn, Jackie Weaver, Sullivan Stapleton and young James Frecheville in his debut as J.
While "Animal Kingdom" starts slowly (perhaps -too- slowly for some), it continually builds in intensity throughout the entire movie, culminating with an ending that is both shocking and yet inevitable. In particular, the movie has a very compelling scene played perfectly by Mendelsohn, with an awesome supporting role played by Luke Ford - I'm sure this scene repulsed many in the audience (it certainly repulsed me). At first, I feared that the scene was added by the director merely as a gratuitous exploitation of the audience's emotions. However, as the movie progresses, the scene's outcome becomes an integral part of the plot development, and is therefore necessary for the completion of the main story.
This movie will not be for everybody - the subject matter and the honest way in which the movie portrays it made the movie somewhat taxing at times to sit through. However, I think those willing to consider the necessity of telling the story of "Animal Kingdom" will find the movie entertaining and thought-provoking - I certainly did.
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!
After his mother dies, 17 year old J comes to live with his estranged
grandmother and uncles, a family of felons. He enters the animal
kingdom of suburban crime and stumbles through a minefield of
sociopaths, cops and lawyers, all claiming to protect him. J soon
learns though that trust means nothing when people are desperate.
This is a dramatic, well-made film that haunts the mind. Highly cinematic, meticulously crafted, thrilling and poignant in equal measure. The director emphasises realistic dialogue, multi-dimensional characters and underplays violence. Still, the film is palpably tense, there are scenes that will leave you shaking, even where there is no bloody payoff. As the body count builds even a car slowly reversing down a driveway becomes a menacing sight. The ending is satisfying.
The film is very well acted, young Frecheville keeps it natural and holds his own amongst titanic performances from veteran Aussies. Mendelsohn as Uncle Pope is particularly brilliant, dressed at Christmas from Lowes, this dorky suburban thug bullies the weak (including his passive younger brother Darren, unhappily entrenched in a life he cannot escape from), and who's confrontational behaviour springs from a deep well of paranoia. His maladjusted moral compass so skewed he frequently crosses into psychopathic territory. And yet he remains all too human, he's a mundane monster. Weaver too, leaves a memorable impression, where revelations abound in the film's third act.
My only complaint is that I would have liked to have seen a courtroom scene that is left to the imagination, we see corrupt police in action, why not a demonstration of hypocrisy in the justice system too? But this is a minor whinge in the grand scale of this ambitious story.
I will be honest, I have always found it hard to get excited about
seeing an Aussie movie. I'm of the general opinion that the Oz film
industry is normally too wrapped up in being 'true blue' that they
forget to make films with a universal theme and subsequently building
an output that strays very little. Well hasn't 2010 proved me wrong.
First there was the breath of fresh air that was Bran Nue Dae followed
by the memorable American-set debut by Sydney director Andrew
Lancaster, Accidents Happen, and the moving WWI drama Beneath Hill 60.
Then, like the final dose of a patriotic inoculation to my anti-Oz
entertainment views of old, comes first-timer David Michod's Sundance
winning Animal Kingdom, gaining my first five-star rating for the year.
With nary a flaw to be found, this crime-drama unfolds at a terrifically slow-burning yet somehow exhilarating pace. The intricately detailed tale has been crafted with such care and dedication that every single frame seems to be oozing with importance, whilst the amazing soundtrack significantly adds to the immersive atmosphere. Drawing you in from the very first scene and never letting you go, you can't help but think about what happens long after the final credits roll. The ambitious movie-making and successful result is even more remarkable when you consider that Michod never resorts to gratuitousness (with violence or sex) or over-the-top, colourful personalities fallback devices for many modern 'gangster' pictures instead allowing his immaculately constructed story and deeply invested characters, all of whom share a layered relationship with one another, to sweep us away.
Jacki Weaver has received numerous critical plaudits for her unnerving performance as Grandma Smurf a resourceful, persevering women who'll stop at nothing to protect her boys and deservedly so; the powerful handle she has on her sons and her willingness to embrace the criminal environment is deeply disturbing and chilling. Also tremendous, and for me the acting highlight of the picture, is Mendelsohn. An eerily quiet felon that can explode into unhinged and desperate violence at any moment, the monstrous Pope commands every bit of our attention. Witnessing his calm exterior when being arrested by the cops for a heinous crime either because he assumes he'll go free or because going to prison just doesn't faze him is extraordinary. Elsewhere youngsters Frecheville and Ford do a commendable job holding their own against such an experienced cast; Stapleton is fascinating as the drug-fuelled middle sibling; adding class and impact as always is international star Pearce whilst the immensely talented Edgerton presents a likable and charismatic alternative as Cody family friend Barry.
A triumph of Australian cinema, this could very well be one of our nation's greatest.
5 out of 5 (1 - Rubbish, 2 - Ordinary, 3 - Good, 4 - Excellent, 5 - Classic)
One of those movies that grabs you from the excellent opening credits
as the camera pans over security camera stills of a gang of Melbourne
thugs robbing banks. The audience, which was rustling noisy junk food
through the previews, fell silent very quickly.
Jackie Weaver as the Matriarch of this crime family was amazing.
It felt a little "talkie" until about half way through, but there is tension right from the beginning that carries you through. Every character is connected to every other as if by springs quivering with tension or compression and the movie really delivers holding the resolution to the final frame where everything shifts into a new alignment.
I really enjoyed Animal Kingdom, it does not glamorize the life of these crims the way Underbelly or Sopranos does, and the cops reflect the dirty history of the Melbourne's finest too (Guy Pearce reprising his role in LA Confidential as a rare Mr Clean). Overall I think David Simon (The Wire) would approve of Animal Kingdom.
Anyone who has wondered how murderers can be loved by their Moms (isn't that most everyone?) should see this movie, it isn't a TV experience it really works well on the big screen.
Animal Kingdom is an Australian film that focuses on a seventeen year old young man named Josh. Josh's mother has just died and not knowing who he should call he calls his grandmother Janine. Josh explains to Janine the situation and she goes to pick him up and lets him stay with her at her home. What we also learn is that Josh and Janine have not seen each other in years. Janine is Josh's mother's mother and they had a falling out, so because of that they have not seen each other for quite a long time. Usually around Janine's house are her sons and Josh's uncles. We soon see that they are involved in numerous criminal and other illegal behaviour and that the police are on to them. One officer by the name of Leckie, continually questions Josh, and in his own way tries to protect him from his family and as time goes on, Josh, starts to see what he means because whenever Josh, has been questioned his uncles are very uneasy around him and the fear and ultimately violent actions that take place will leave Josh with a tough decision, which is whether to turn his uncles in and betray the only family he has, or to lie to Leckie and continue to live in fear. Animal Kingdom works for several reasons. It is a very intense and disturbing film that is in it's own way is also a very creepy and scary film. The performances and the musical score really elaborate this and at times I was getting uncomfortable in my seat not knowing what would happen in this film and because of the brilliant performances and music the film made me squirm in my seat even more. The film has a gritty and earthy type of look and feel to it, which I found appropriate for the story telling and basically the setting and mood the filmmakers were trying to get across. The story is quite an involving one and as it moved on I started to care for Josh, and hoped that he would make it out of this terrible situation and that in one way, or another he would go on to bigger and better things. Also every time his uncles were on screen they struck a fear and uncomfortable feeling inside of me and basically real genuine fear of these characters. The film is a low budget film, but by using very good actors, music and story it elevates it to become a first grade picture that I think most people would like, if they would only give it a chance and go see it. This is an incredibly powerful and disturbing film and it will leave an impact on you because of how masterfully it was done with it's great cast, crew and story. One of the most suspenseful and powerful films of the year that deserves a look from others because behind all this lies a really good movie and one that should be seen.
"Animal Kingdom" is a documentary that tells the tale of the creation of the infamous Disney Park! Not! Actually, the "Animal Kingdom" I am referring to has a far more different theme than the jolly theme park. "Animal Kingdom" is a superior Australian movie about a 17-year-old high school teen named Joshua "J" Cody who suddenly gets captured into a crime-ridden animalistic family filled with bank robbers, drug dealers, and murderers; these predators just happen to be his ferocious uncles and his matriarch, manipulative grandma. Joshua mother's fatal drug overdose results in his moving in with the Killer Cody herd. Writer-Director David Michod's masterpiece (yes, I said the "M" word) is undoubtedly one of the best family crime dramas that I have ever witnessed. Michod does not exploit the movie as a bang-bang shoot-them-up mindless tale, but instead he brilliantly centers the film around J's subjective experiences on being entrapped in this futile crime world which he did not choose to be a part of. Furthermore, Michod provides an authentic look at the mentality of a crime-ridden family which have deep-ridden fears that are masked with their avenging, scheming actions. Hey mates, I think David Michod is the real deal, this is his first film so I can't wait for more cinematic kingdoms to come from young David. The cast of "Animal Kingdom" is divine! James Frecheville's restrained "WTF is going on around me" performance as J was a stellar freshman effort. "The Men From Uncle", in other words the Cody Crime Brothers, were an eclectic and intimidating trio portrayed astoundingly by their Aussie actors. Ben Mendelsohn was profoundly menacing as Pope Cody, the uncle whose gaze and gestures were perfected by Mendelsohn in detailing the ruthlessness of his character. Sullivan Stapleton's fury performance as the "Sonny Corleone-like" Craig Cody staples Sullivan as an Aussie actor on the rise. The younger but more fragile & insecure Cody name Darren was played with exact aptitude by Luke Ford. But the stellar supporting cast ensemble of "Animal Kingdom" was not just about the Uncles. Joel Edgerton shined as Barry Brown, the Cody family confidante who happens to be the cerebral architect of the Cody armed robbery crew. And the veteran Aussie acclaimed actor Guy Pearce once again pierced away on his diversified acting skills with another grand effort in his work as the "J-guide to the good side" Detective Leckie. But it was Jacki Weaver's virtuoso performance as the grandma that I was hoping would get run over by a reindeer or at least a kangaroo, was the one that had the most thespian bite of them all. Weaver's Oscar-nominated performance as the conniving Smurf Cody is what acting dreams are made of! It will be an unjustified supertramp I mean supertrap if this DreamWeaver is not awarded the Best Supporting Actress Academy Award! There is not one mundane or insignificant scene in "Animal Kingdom", it is as luring as it is unpredictable, just like the animal kingdom itself. Go on a scavenger cinematic hunt and set your sights on the "Animal Kingdom". ***** Excellent
Director David Michod should be congratulated for his intelligent, quiet control over this strongly scripted, well-acted, distinctly Australian movie. All the parts came together with originality, which is not an easy task, especially with crime stories; but this one delves into the families & minds of criminals avoiding blatant stereotypes so often thrust upon the viewer. All the actors are perfectly cast and fine actors. Jacki Weaver, you nailed Smurf and Guy Pearce has become this wonderful chameleon & consummate actor who continues to surprise with his range. This is your first feature, David Michod, well I'm certainly looking forward to your second.
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
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.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
When Joshua 'J' Cody (James Frecheville) finds his mother dead from a
drug overdose he contacts his grandmother Janine (Jacki Weaver) for
support. Janine is the matriarch for the crime family that J's mother
tried to shield him from. The family is made up of Janine and her three
sons Andrew (Ben Mendelsohn), Darren (Luke Ford) and Craig (Sullivan
Stapleton), as well as a close family friend in Barry Brown (Joel
Edgerton). They are all under stress given the trigger happy nature of
the police force who are in a standoff against the underworld. J's
entry into the family exposes him to the drug culture that the rest of
the family is already accustomed to. When Barry is executed at point
blank range by a police officer it sparks dangerous tensions between
the Cody's and the police. A cop named Leckie (Guy Pearce) is quick to
latch onto J to see if he will help them bring down the crime family
because he knows the dangers that J and his girlfriend Nicky (Laura
Wheelwright) are in.
Animal Kingdom, directed by David Michôd, carries a sense of nostalgia for Australian cinema. It reminds the audience of Australia's ability to cinematically tell powerful and intimate stories of lower class thugs, with a high degree of realism and verisimilitude. Yet its tendency to cover overly familiar elements of the crime genre is also suggestive of the ongoing problems with script development in this country. One of the first mistakes that the screenplay makes is killing off one of the film's most interesting and engaging characters at the start of the film. With the discussion about giving up the life of crime and getting into business there is a suggestion that this will be a revisionist type of crime film. This promise is never fulfilled with the death of this character and as such the film rarely transcends the genre. It delivers us once more into the lives of drug addicts, lowlifes, straight and crooked cops and exposes us to sporadic but senseless violence. There are few characters who can win the sympathy of the audience here. J has been deliberately characterised as a monotone teenager, who is incapable of thinking for himself and the way that he is pulled in different directions by the opposite sides of the law is one of the most interesting ideas in the script. Yet its been overly written to the point where it just isn't credible. In the very first scene in the film J insists on watching television while the paramedics attend to his mum in the same room. Frecheville has presumably been directed to play this role in a specific way, showing very little emotion, but it also makes his character almost entirely inaccessible and the film becomes distancing. Significantly, there are also a glaring number of plot holes in the narrative too, specifically the omission of any forensic investigation for the crimes, suggesting a lack of research during the script writing process.
For the various problems with the script, the direction of Michôd should still be commended for the grittiness and realism in which the film has been visualised. The locations of the film, like the interior of the Cody house, seem real and contribute significantly in one's belief of the family dynamics. The quite, intimate moments are contrasted with sporadic but graphic violence that is never glorified, unlike the television series Underbelly and its kinetic visual style. Even more impressive are the performances of the cast, who aside from Frecheville, are excellent. Joel Edgerton is missed throughout the film because he grounds his character with a believable amount of intelligence. Ben Mendelsohn is trippy as 'Pope' and his ability to combine a doped out image with his violent unpredictability makes him quite menacing. Jackie Weaver is also splendid as the slightly over-bearing grandmother, with a much nastier edge. Easily the most sympathetic character in the film is J's girlfriend and her parents are perfectly cast, even though they only have very minor roles. Why they would let their daughter's boyfriend, who has notorious relatives, stay in their house though is one of the many plot holes that has to be overlooked.
Animal Kingdom is a solid crime film but it lacks the emotional pull to make it particularly memorable. This is mostly due to the lack of a particularly engaging protagonist. There are plenty of strong performances throughout this film, particularly Mendelsohn, but it does make the audience question where the film is meant to be heading when we are forced to side with someone who seems to be almost entirely incapable of redeeming themselves here. With a tighter script and less plot holes this could have been a much more successful film given the number of good performances and also the high degree of realism that has been employed to tell this story.
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