This is a film about seventeen year old Josh (J), it starts by him calling telling an ambulance crew that his mother has overdosed on heroin. They are too late and he calls his estranged grand mother for help. She is the matriarch of a crime family of drug dealers and armed robbers.
He then is welcomed into the bosom of the family and they assume he is just like the rest of them. The police are watching them , but some rogue cops have decided that the normal course of justice runs a tad slow, and have been using alternative methods.
Guy Pearce plays the good cop, who wants to save J, he knows he is not like the rest of them. They though are all in varying degrees scared or cowed by the worst `Uncle' that being Uncle Pope - he is the one the cops really want. J gets a girlfriend he met at school and is trying to be `normal', but finds it increasingly difficult if not impossible to stay on the fringes.
This is an excellent, taught, crime drama, from Australia, it is brilliantly acted by all players and there is some excellent camera work. This is no `Scarface' in terms of violence, but what there is really keeps you hooked from the very beginning. The grandmother is a real star, both loving and ruthless in equal measures. We also have corrupt cops, corrupt solicitors and drug use. This is a real gem of a film and another thumbs up to Screen Australia for putting up some of the funds.
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This crime family drama set in Melbourne, Australia, lacks a focus. You'd think it wouldn't given the whole thing revolves around a super dysfunctional family of armed robbers unable to deal with the changing crime scene (one now where the money is in dealing drugs not robbing banks) in their community.
What is wrong with the whole thing is it's obvious these criminals have been at this life a while yet they (SPOILER ALERTS start now) go and kill two policemen as a revenge killing. Surely, they realized the consequences of their actions. I just didn't get that move as this crime family is no organized Cosa Nostra at all.
The other weak link is the lead actor. He walks around sloven shouldered and talks so monotone and what seems uninterested in his own fate as if he's a zombie. The kid is 17 years old and I get that but his performance is so low key it's all the wrong tone for this movie. Not that I want him ranting and whining like a typical teenage lunatic but the fact once he figures out that his girlfriend is murdered by these family members he "trusted" to some extent, he seems like an emotionless robot. He even goes over to her house and invites himself in for a bit of a cry in their bathroom. Really? It never occurred to the guy to run for the hills?
Having said all that, the other performances are terrific. The matriarch who is the grandmother to the young lead, has probably the most incestuous kissing scenes in film history. It's downright creepy the way she kisses her sons and it's worse the way she off-handingly puts out a hit on her own grandson later in the story.
There is a token Guy Pearce in this and his role is not all that major.Read more ›
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
45 of 52 people found the following review helpful
Well-made, depressing Australian crime drama.Sept. 12 2010
Miles D. Moore
- Published on Amazon.com
"Animal Kingdom," David Michod's debut feature, is undeniably well-made and compelling, but it's strictly for people who thought "The Departed" was too optimistic. Seventeen-year-old Joshua Cody (James Frecheville), known as J, never had a chance, as "Animal Kingdom" makes plain from the opening shot. Once J's mother dies of a heroin overdose, he has nowhere to go but the home of his "Grandma Smurf" (Jacki Weaver) and uncles, a violent group of career criminals that makes "White Heat" and "Bloody Mama" look like "Mary Poppins." The Codys live in a seedy section of Melbourne in which police and crooks are essentially competing mobs, sometimes cooperating but more often taking hits out on each other. It's a true jungle, just as merciless as the Serengeti and far more corrupt.
"Animal Kingdom" is essentially the story of how J is sucked inexorably into a life of crime, enhanced by ominous music and portentous slo-mo camera effects. Ben Mendelsohn--playing J's Uncle Andrew, a/k/a The Pope--is absolutely terrifying. So is Weaver as the outwardly cheery but inwardly satanic Grandma Smurf, who will sacrifice anyone and anything to preserve the family business. "Just because you don't want to do something," she remarks at one crucial point, "doesn't mean it can't be done." As for Frecheville, at the beginning he's reminiscent of Forrest Gump if Forrest had been played by the young Rupert Everett. His performance gains in power, however, as his afflictions pile up and his true nature starts to come out.
There are a few things about "Animal Kingdom" that don't fit together; for example, it's a little too convenient that upright Detective Sergeant Leckie (Guy Pearce) should be so ignorant of the corruption in his own police force. Nevertheless, "Animal Kingdom" is a persuasive crime drama and an admirable debut film for Michod. Just don't watch it when you're already depressed.
9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
Survival of the FittestMarch 1 2011
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ANIMAL KINGDOM is tough little film from Australia, well written and directed by David Michôd, and acted by a fine ensemble cast of actors. It is a frightening tale of crime and corruption, of one family of criminal sociopaths both pitted against and partnered by the police in Melbourne, Australia. Though the film wanders times, altering past and present in a manner that proves confusing to the whole, the impact in the end is stunning.
Joshua "J" Cody (James Frecheville) narrates the film and we first meet this young 17-year-old sitting beside his mother who has just died from an overdose of heroin. In a most detached way he calls his maternal grandmother Smurf (Jacki Weaver) and asks if she remembers him: his mother has been estranged from her family for years. Smurf welcomes his call and complies with his desire to move to her home. And what a home she runs! Smurf's sons are sociopathic criminals on the run from the law (but also involved with the law in the illegal sale of drugs with bad cops). The worst offender is Pope (Ben Mendelsohn) who is the brains behind the crimes the family commits: he is also on medication for his mental challenge. The other two brothers are drug-addled Craig (Sullivan Stapleton) and the strange very young Darren (Luke Ford). Pope's best friend in crime is the rather tender Baz (Joel Edgerton) with whom J can relate. J is thus thrust into the family he has not known and becomes reluctantly involved with the criminal shenanigans and killings of Smurf's boys. Smurf has a bizarre relationship with her 'gang' of sons, seemingly kind and protective but with a surprising evil side of her own. As the story progresses J is caught between the family and the police - in the form of Investigator Leckie (Guy Pearce, in another memorable role) - and the story deals with how this contrasting set of circumstances molds the young J.
There isn't a weak link in the cast and after viewing the film it is understandable why Jacki Weaver was nominated for an Oscar. This is a different sort of crime drama and the flavor of the Australian setting adds immeasurably to the mood. Grady Harp, March 11
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
Brilliant crime drama, best since HEATFeb. 26 2011
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This Aussie crime drama rates very high on my list of best crime dramas in the past 15 or 20 years. The screenplay, directing & acting were all superb, rivaling that of Heat & Goodfellas. It also has some similarities to the 80's film At Close Range with Penn & Walken, which was also brilliantly acted. This film was a directorial debut for the director, which makes it all the more impressive. This film is far superior to The Departed, which won best picture a few years back, but I'm sure it will get slighted by OSCAR because it's an Aussie film. The film keeps your attention & is very unpredictable, has many twists & turns & has a brilliant ending. Don't miss this film.
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
Akin to Scorcese but stands on it's own.Nov. 22 2011
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Australia has been a rising force in the international film market. Films such as "Wolf Creek" and "The Loved Ones" prove that Australia can churn out some gritty, violent and disturbing films. "Animal Kingdom" is no exception. This movie is a powerhouse of great film making with intense performances, impeccable direction and a brilliant script. You may find yourself thinking that you've seen this story before, but you've never seen it with the same intensity and emotion.
"Animal Kingdom" is at it's heart a coming of age story in a crime family. Joshua, played by James Frecheville, is a 17 year old recently orphaned kid who's family is a mixture of drug dealers and bank robbers. Joshua's mother dies in the beginning of the film from a drug overdose and the only option he has is to go live with his grandmother. Jackie Weaver stunningly plays Janine 'Smurf' Cody, the matriarchal grandmother running everything. As Joshua gets situated in his new home he begins to find he's in a very volatile situation. One that he has to decide whether to be a part of or not. A decision that will undoubtedly change his entire life.
This film is akin to Scorcese's masterpieces "Casino", "The Departed" and "Taxi Driver". Director, David Michôd emulated these films yet certainly made "Animal Kingdom" his own. As his first feature film, Michôd made it seem easy. The incredibly taut script left nothing to be desired. As in the Scorcese films I mentioned, the script was the key ingredient to make this film such a brilliant piece of work. Some crime drama's can get away with having a back story everyone knows, yet the script is sub par. "Animal Kingdom" is not only fresh but being from Australia it's impact is that much greater to American audiences.
Joel Edgerton made a lifelong fan for his performance here. He was chilling yet completely sensitive to the plight of his family and that of his sibling Joshua. Frecheville who plays Joshua, the scared orphan brother, is brilliant. His transformation is a wonder to behold, his delivery and expressions brought out real emotion in the character. The standout performance in this film has to be Jackie Weaver as Smurf the matriarch of the clan. Writer/Director Michôd wrote the part of Janine 'Smurf' Cody for Jackie Weaver in fact, thank God she accepted the role. She has mentioned in the radio program "Fresh Air" that her interpretation of the character provide that all the children were fathered by different men (criminals most likely). I think this allowed her to really dive into connecting to her kin in very different ways. She is by far the highlight of the film for me.
As a production the film succeeds. It's slow but detailed progression really allows the viewer to become attached to the characters and feel what they are feeling at any given moment. With a great soundtrack, gritty dark feel of the setting and brilliant acting, this one is an easy recommendation.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
They Devour Their Own In This Family! A Psychological Descent Into Criminal DesperationJan. 31 2011
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A surprisingly understated gem, Australia's "Animal Kingdom" is more adept at showcasing the psychological dissolution of a crime family than being a gung-ho action picture. In his choices, writer/director David Michod has produced a unique film that combines elements of a character study within the structure of a domestic drama. Placing that domestic drama inside a criminal family in flux, in decline and in desperation provides a slow build urgency to the film that causes the suspense to rise exponentially as the film proceeds. Effectively employing a moral ambiguity to his central protagonist, Michod creates a complex family unit that alternately protects its own or, if need be, devours the weakest. I loved the quiet intensity throughout and appreciated the thoughtful characterizations that made the "Animal Kingdom" an effective study of humans pushed to the edge.
The film is centered around James Frecheville, a rather passive seventeen year old that comes to live with his grandmother (Jackie Weaver) when his mother overdoses. Unbeknownst to him, his mother has shielded him from a family that lives outside the limits of the law. Frecheville, however, seems content to play a marginal role within the family enterprise as it garners him acceptance and connectivity. As the police, led by Guy Pearce, start to close in on the various members of the group--a splinter starts to form that will eventually rend everyone apart. The further the film progresses, the larger the body count until everyone left is scrambling in desperation mode for survival. The film is exceedingly well acted. Weaver is cool and cheerful even at her most treacherous. Sullivan Stapleton is terrifically unhinged as Uncle Craig, Joel Edgerton is astutely level headed as Uncle Barry, and Luke Ford is surprisingly sympathetic as the over-his-head Uncle Darren. But aside from Weaver's subversive villainy, it's a manic Ben Mendelsohn that provides real menace throughout "Animal Kingdom."
If anything keeps the film from being perfect, for me, it's the naive and passive Frecheville. He never elicited much sympathy or empathy and pairing him with a girlfriend who was equally foolish didn't help matters. In many ways, you know the young couple is doomed--but it merely seems like they brought it upon themselves with their patent refusal to acknowledge what is going on before their eyes. Still, "Animal Kingdom" packs a powerfully hard edge. The film is thoroughly entertaining and works as an intellectual thriller, not as a shoot-em-up. Don't get me wrong, there's plenty of well placed violence in "Animal Kingdom"-- the film, however, revels in the choices that people must make in extreme circumstances. And, in the end, it's all about survival instinct. I really loved this movie. About 4 1/2 stars--I'll round up for the distinct and effective characterizations (although I'm tempted to round down for the idiot girlfriend!). KGHarris, 1/11.