Sunday, October 31, 2010

DVD--Animal Kingdom

or: Kids and crime.


One word to sum it up: Gritty.

Imagine my delight when I found a copy of Animal Kingdom in the preview drawer. Here is a movie which I hadn't heard of until seeing a glowing five star review in an issue of Empire, and had wanted to see ever since. It had a small release here in NZ, mainly circulating through the New Zealand Film Festival, but I'm pretty sure it's still playing at many independent cinemas across the country (I'm not sure when it's out on DVD here, but I'll just say that this is a DVD review anyway). Again, Australia proves why it is the best at making compelling family dramas, adding a fantastic crime vibe which David Michod should be proud of.

After Joshua 'J' Cody's (Jame Frecheville) mother dies in front of his 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 (Jacki Weaver), 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 (Ben Mendelsohn), the hyperactive Craig Cody (Sullivan Stapleton), and the barely of age Darren Cody (Luke Ford). Pope and his best friend, Barry "Baz" Brown (Joel Edgerton), 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 only grounding in J's life is his girlfriend, Nicky Henry (Laura Wheelwright). With those casualties comes an investigation by Homicide Detective Senior Sergeant Nathan Leckie (Guy Pearce), who knows the Codys are involved in some of those deaths. As Leckie tries to get J on his side, J has to figure out how best to get himself out from the middle, where he trusts neither side. J also wants to figure out how to exact what he considers justice in an all around bad situation.

The Cody's have just become the most interesting crime family to grace our screens in a long time. This family is blessed by fantastic actors who give powerhouse performances filled with aggression and barely any emotional stability. It doesn't feel like a film when you are watching it, as you are instantly drawn into to it's frighteningly realistic world. Animal Kingdom is not the kind of coming-of-age film you'd expect; however, James Frecheville's great debut performance as J pretty much epitomizes how hard it can be growing up, especially when you are surrounded by crims.

While it may look like an average crime genre violent frenzy riot, it's not. Animal Kingdom chooses not to be glorifyingly violent and packs a punch in ways we can all relate to. It asks the viewer how they would feel if they were J: having to choose between right or wrong and having to live with crims who are unpredictable at the best of times. Jacki Weaver, perhaps, has the best part of the movie, playing the strange matriarch who I couldn't quite wrap my head around, but I think that's what her point was. She deserves as many accolades as possible, she really is the pearl of the film. Animal Kingdom is a film which isn't to be missed, and is to be seen twice. David Michod is onto something big here.


THE VERDICT: David Michod crafts a superbly written and directed film, made even better by it's fearless performances that should be seen to be believed.

8/10

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