Saturday, 5 June 2010
FILM REVIEW: ANIMAL KINGDOM
Judging by the television ratings, Australian audiences love watching stories about the local criminal underworld. And if some of that appeal can attract a similar number of bums on seats for Animal Kingdom, then it could be the biggest homegrown hit of the year.
It's certainly the most buzzed, following on from its raved reception at this year's Sundance Film Festival where it picked up the World Cinema prize. American critics, no strangers to crime and gangster films, were full of praise for David Michod's debut feature; and we Aussies love nothing more than the approval of others.
Which isn't to say that Animal Kingdom doesn't succeed on its own terms – it does. As an examination of a Melbourne crime family - the Codys - rotting from the inside out, it's uncompromising, uncomfortable viewing. Those rocking up in the hopes of catching some Underbelly on the big screen will be somewhat disappointed, and not just because the T and A quota is zero; Animal Kingdom doesn't seek to glamourize its subject, rather it depicts the banality and ordinariness of evil, and the inherent sinking inevitability, with an unflinching eye.
We witness the Cody family through the eyes of J (James Frecheville), a 17-year-old who comes to live with his relatives following the drug overdose death of his mother. Embraced by the family matriarch, Smurf (Jacki Weaver), who dotes on her sons a little too much, J is soon caught up in the world of drug running and bank robbery.
But it's not until his uncles – Luke Ford, Sullivan Stapleton and Ben Mendelsohn - kill a couple of police officers, in retaliation for the death of a mate and business partner, that his eyes are opened to the true nature of his new environment. And the true nature of his grandmother becomes all too apparent when a sympathetic detective (Guy Pearce) offers J a chance of escape.
Performances are all top notch here, from newcomer Frecheville, whose J is somewhat of a blank slate and the eyes through which we witness events, to Mendelsohn as the psychopathic, most dangerous of the Cody brothers, and Jacki Weaver, somewhat of a revelation as the mother who will do anything – anything – to protect her boys.
Animal Kingdom is not a fun viewing experience, but it's gripping, tense and intense. As a debuting writer-director, David Michod has made an accomplished film which has already proven to be as universal as it is Australian. Let's hope those foreign plaudits are followed by Australian audiences.