NEW Animal Kingdom (DVD)
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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.
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 ›
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
"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.
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
"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.
Newcomer James Frecheville plays 'J', a 17-year old teenager who is forced to live with his extended family due to the death of his mother from a drug overdose. Turns out his family is filled with criminals led by his sweet but sinister matriarchal grandmother Janine, played with interesting finesse by Aussie actress Jacki Weaver. J moves in with his grandmother and her 3 sons, J's uncles, played by Ben Mendelsohn, Luke Ford, and Sullivan Stapleton, who waste no time bringing J into the family business. Also part of this mix is Joel Edgerton, as a fellow bank robber and friend of Mendelsohn's character "Pope". Without giving too much of the story away, J goes through some growing pains as he deals with his new life in this different kind of family. As one of the detectives after Pope and the rest of his family, Guy Pierce's "Leckie" wants to save J from a life of crime under the control of his grandmother. But what does J want?
Animal Kingdom is a fairly slow moving movie, spending a lot of time getting us into the inner familial workings and mindsets of this Melbourne crime family. We don't really see any of the crimes that this band of brothers normally commits, just a small retaliation against the police. While this is interesting, much like the typical modern crime drama, this is probably where I felt Animal Kingdom was the weakest. While bank robberies, drug deals, and other criminal acts have been shown over and over in movies and television shows, I think its because we as viewers like seeing the adrenaline rush and camaraderie that comes with those activities. It helps pick up the pace and give us stakes. Since Animal Kingdom basically lacks that adrenaline, it never really got me into the story to where I cared emotionally all that much about this crime family. Still, the Cody family is interesting and the actors do a great job of each representing their characters. Where I think a bank robbery or two would've helped is in tying these various characters together for me. Instead, we mostly watch the slow deterioration of each of them as the film goes on.
The cinematography and production design both stand out on Animal Kingdom. I loved the house where the Cody's reside, and the various sets and locations all add flavor to the film. Probably the strongest part of the production is the music by composer Antony Partos. The score for this film has a deep haunting and eery feel that gives the movie depth and tone that really helps tell the story. There are two scenes where music is front and center, with no dialogue and just visuals, and both really worked for me on an emotional level. I just wish there was more of that throughout the film and in the characters. Emotion is one of the key ingredients of film, television, and any storytelling for that matter. While there's a fine line between too much and too little emotion, Animal Kingdom could have benefitted from a little more in my opinion. But overall, it's a well made Aussie Indie film that is definitely worth seeing on Blu-ray. Ironically, my favorite parts of the Animal Kingdom experience were listening to and watching director David Michôd talk about the making of the film in the audio commentary and the special features. Michôd is a very sharp and caring filmmaker whose depth of soul really comes through in his discussions of his craft. Hopefully he'll bring more of himself to his next film.