Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Animal Kingdom (2010)


Over the past few months I've felt a bit like a broken record, redundantly blathering on about how great all these cold, moody thrillers I've been watching are. How their elusiveness injects a frightful charm into the characters, that makes them simultaneously enticing and horrifying. Is it a testament towards an ever growing apathetic nature in myself that I find myself so drawn to them? Or could it be that simply put these characters feature predominately in some of the best works 2010 has to offer? Well, I'd like to say that it is the latter, but who really knows?

Animal Kingdom plays with fire. Many of the film's most colorful and amusing characters fail to make it past the thirty minute mark. The rest range of the dull to the manipulative and on to the downright maniacal. When these characters take to the screen you never know what you're going to get. Will they just there with no emotion, watching a sickly violent act take place? Or do they take matters into their own hand? As Animal Kingdom unfolds it becomes obvious that these actions are far less predictable than you might imagine.

Finding the right balance between gritty violence and bravura storytelling, Animal Kingdom is an audacious tale of gang violence in Australia. With crooked cops, and those just trying to make a living, going to head to head with a family of criminals, writer-director David Michod provides a fresh spin on an old tale.

With all the cunning of Vito Corleone, family matriarch Janine (Jacki Weaver) manipulates her perception of family into what she wants it to be. Her affection, well exceeding obsession, with her children lead her to make decisions that can make or break the world she has constructed for herself. Weaver handles the role like an uncut diamond, complete with unkempt beauty and jagged edges. The look she gives her characters that says 'oh, I don't mind' could easily be replaced with the thought 'I will cut you right here and now' depending on what's going on. She has a reassuringly mother vibe with the potential to be as venomous as a snake... if you get in her way.

Complete with a stare that would give children nightmare for years, eldest child Andrew (Ben Mendelsohn) is the only member of the main crime group not entirely reliant on their mother. His look is unassuming, but sadistic. And his actions speak to that very nature. "Pope" shows an utter lack of acknowledgment for the existence of others, beyond their immediate affect on him. If there was an award for unappreciated, you would be hard pressed to find a better candidate this year than Mendelsohn. From head to toe, he embodies the very sociopathic nature of his character to the point of being hard to define where the character ends and he begins.

However, all of Animal Kingdom is told through the lens of Josh (James Frencheville), nephew to the main family, and grandson to Janine. Josh is a rather unemotional character throughout much of the film. He's difficult to latch onto, and harder to understand given his penchants for silence and following. Yet, as the film progresses, he develops a more outwardly emotional attitude, and Frencheville nails every moment of it. By the time the ending comes, Josh has more than evolved into a fine character, he's become a recognizable force in the film.

At its core, Animal Kingdom is not about family. It's certainly not about how far we go for them. Animal Kingdom is simply about survival. The means to which one will go in an effort to adapt themselves to the world around them. Can you become evil to defeat evil? Will good present a path to your salvation? Why in the world is Guy Pearce playing such a bland character? Is that Luke Ford? Where's Brendan Fraser? Sorry, I regress.

What makes Animal Kingdom a movie I so greatly admire and enjoy, is that it blends so flawlessly two categories of film that often fail to co-exist. It's managed to combine the, drawling tended, moody genre with the tension of an old school slasher. Throw the two in the classic cops vs. gangs motif and you get a winner worthy of repeat viewings, and adoring praise.

Film Credits:
Written and Directed By: David Michod

4 better thoughts:

Anonymous said...

Have been hearing good stories about this, haven't seen it yet, so another one to put on my (very long) "To watch" list

MrJeffery said...

great review. i really want to see this. hopefully i'll snag it on dvd on tuesday.

Andrew: Encore Entertainment said...

God, but the performances!!! From Frecheville to Weaver to Stapelton to Edgerton and on the acting is so fine here it's shame the majority of these actors may never reach world-wide fame. Animal Kingdom succeeds most of all for me because it's not interested in being a paradigm of crime everywhere, it's interest lies completely in its characters. If only more films in the genre would do so.

Univarn said...

@myfilmviews Thanks for the comment, and yeah my 'to watch' list is about as close to infinity as one can get.

@MrJeffery I most definitely recommend it!

@Andrew I know, the performances were great. I agree with what you say on it just analyzing an isolated crime family, but I think it works because that seems so effortless. With the exception to the ending, I never felt as if there was a moment where the film tried to manipulate the characters.

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