FILM REVIEW: Animal Kingdom
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5/5The description “Australian crime drama” comes with a host of unwelcome connotations. Australia isn’t exactly a country renowned for its cinematic output, and the family crime drama has been dead since Tony Soprano stopped halfway thr- But like several films from the Antipodes before it, if it makes it this far it’s definitely worth a look, and it breathes new life into an old genre with a different perspective. Animal Kingdom follows seventeen year old J (James Frecheville), who after losing his mother to a heroin overdose is forced to live with the criminal family his mother had tried to keep him away from all his life. Welcomed in by his grandmother and family matriarch, Smurf (Jacki Weaver), and his bank-robbing, drug-dealing uncles, J (and the audience) is lead softly by the hand into the Melbourne underworld, where despite their shady dealings the bonds of family run strong and keep him safe. Things soon begin to unravel, however, with the family under pressure from the Armed Robbery Squad, killing with impunity, and with the arrival of eldest uncle, the quietly menacing Pope (Ben Mendelsohn). Paranoia sets in, and J learns that the number one rule isn’t necessarily Family Comes First, but Survival Of The Fittest, and that failure to adapt brings dire consequences. Sounds pretty familiar, right? And indeed, the well-trodden crime archetypes are all present and correct – the Friend To Everybody, the Psycho, the Edgy Cokehead, the Corrupt Cops, the One Good Cop, all seen from the eyes of the New Kid. But the twist comes from a deftly measured hand from debut director/screenwriter David Michôd, who eschews flashy visuals or fast editing – or even depiction of any sort of heist – in favour of a tightly-wound character study. Unlike last year’s The Town, say, where the characters serve the plot and the situations drive the film, this story is populated by unpredictable characters who constantly keep you guessing, never knowing who to trust or to what extent; characters whose motivations and intentions shift tectonically, and that guiding hand becomes an ever tightening grip on the shoulder, becoming much less comfortable as the screws tighten.
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