DIR/WRI: David Michôd • PRO: Liz Watts • DOP: Adam Arkapaw • ED: Luke Doolan • DES: Josephine Ford • Cast: Jacki Weaver, James Frecheville, Guy Pearce, Joel Edgerton
There is a recurring trend in film at the moment, the recession seems to have given everyone a bad case of the blues, and films have been given a heavy dose of ‘grit’ of late. Words like ‘gritty’ and ‘crime underworld’ have been thrown about haphazardly for so long that they have almost lost their meaning. The bright side to all of this visual murkiness is that it is incredibly refreshing when a film comes along that infuses meaning back into the words, and retains enjoyment while being bleak. Writer/director David Michôd’s Animal Kingdom is one such film.
Animal Kingdom explores Melbourne’s crime underworld in an innovative way. The film is heavily character-driven and Michôd adds a level of fatalism to the human condition. There are no exit clauses here, no happy endings. Our director shows us in no uncertain terms that we are not in Kansas anymore. The film follows the story of the Cody brothers, a gang of armed robbers who are unabashedly adored by their mother Smurf. Each brother comes with his own baggage and, refreshingly, each brother is shown in detail to ensure that we know our characters better than they seem to know themselves. Whilst oldest brother ‘Pope’ struggles with his best friend’s change of heart, younger brothers Craig and Darren wage their own private wars with cocaine addiction and conscience respectively. As the brothers attempt to initiate their teen nephew ‘J’ into their gang, it seems that nothing can go smoothly for them, but the undying love of their mother remains strong, if a little misguided.
What sets this film apart from every other gritty crime drama we have been barraged with is that it is full of heart. Unusually for the drama, we grow to love our anti-heroes and we wish for them to see the error of their ways. Each actor has thrown everything into their performance in order to create a film in which nothing is lacking, no stone is left unturned. Stand-out performances include Guy Pearce as senior police officer Nathan Leckie and the Cody brothers themselves played by Ben Mendelsohn, Joel Edgerton and Luke Ford. James Frecheville and Jacki Weaver give solid performances as J and Smurf but they are lost behind the on-screen magnificence of the brothers. Each character remains utterly believable as a human being as witty catchphrases are replaced with normal human conversation.
The pacing of the film is a stroke of genius. Michôd knows how to keep audience buttocks perched on the edge of a seat and he abuses that privilege throughout. It is one of few crime dramas in which a sea of girlfriends dragged along cannot be heard to say ‘Oh I get it now [insert spoiler]…sorry!’ It is a film which is as violent on its audience as it is on its characters and yet it remains a thing of visual beauty, omitting the deep blue hues which seem to follow the genre. Here is a brutal genre piece which will play on your mind for long after the credits have finished rolling.
Animal Kingdom is the best Aussie film of the year, which admittedly isn’t all that difficult, but this film truly is something special. A menace to society, but who doesn’t love a baddie?
IFCO website for details)
Animal Kingdom is released on 25th February 2011