Animal Kingdom (2010)

| 22 May , 2010 | Reply

Keeva Stratton, Quip Creative

Director: David Michôd
Starring: Ben Mendohlson, Jacqui Weaver, Joel Edgerton, Guy Pearce, James Frecheville

In the animal kingdom it is the strongest, the fiercest and the most cunning who survives. Adapting this principle to the underworld crime scene in Melbourne, the film Animal Kingdom follows the story of the young cub Josh ‘J’ Cody (James Frecheville) as he fights to stay alive and earn his place amidst his family pack, who happen to be hardened criminals.

Having been raised initially by his mother, Josh is thrust into a new life with his grandmother and uncles when she overdoses, and he soon finds himself having to make some serious choices about which side of the law he intends to abide by. Josh’s uncles Andrew (Ben Mendelsohn), Darren (Luke Ford), Barry (Joel Edgerton) and Craig (Sullivan Stapleton) are under the close watchful eye of Detective Leckie (Guy Pearce), and when one of them is killed by the police, the feud escalates to a new and dangerous level.

Torn between his loyalty to his grandmother and the fear he feels in his uncles’ presence, Josh is a character that could go either way, and it is this uncertainty that underpins kingpin Andrew’s lack of trust in him. This lack of trust begins to mount, which threatens not only Josh’s existence, but also begins to divide and bring down the family entirely.

Jacqui Weaver as the family matriarch is outstanding. She balances the complexity, the protectiveness and derangement of a woman at the head of this twisted bunch to perfection. Equally impressive is the disturbing performance by Ben Mendohlson, as the violent and off-the-rails pack leader, and Guy Pearce is unwavering as the persistent yet empathetic Detective.

It’s a violent and an eerie film. On some level the intertwined narrative of heinous crime and family normalcy will disturb you, but thankfully it avoids overt glorification. What adds darkness to the film is the familiarity of the characters – these are not the sophisticated, shrewd and vile characters we’re used to, rather, they’re present as pretty normal Aussie blokes with a somewhat abnormal sense of right and wrong. Yet they are capable of cold blooded murder.

While I was cautious about yet another depiction of Melbourne’s underworld, Animal Kingdom is less about Melbourne and more about the relationships and struggles faced by those immersed in criminal families. The plight of Josh is a sad one, and one that succeeds in highlighting the terrible conundrum faced by young people born into difficult existences. It will leave you a little chilled, but this is a powerful example of the trappings of the criminal underworld, and the somber plight of those in its grasp. A great Australian film.

In cinemas now.

Keeva

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