Director: David Michod
Screenwriter: David Michod
Runtime: 113 mins.
Australian release date: 3 June 2010
Previewed at: Reel Room, Sydney, on 1 June 2010
Violence makes good viewing and there are directors like Guy Richie and Quentin Tarantino who epitomize the ‘cool’ factor leaving their audiences in no doubt that they have viewed a criminal world that has a certain charm. A little bit rock n’ roll, perhaps. David Michod’s Animal Kingdom is the opposite. He leaves you in no doubt that the criminal world is violent, ruthless and scary as hell.
Set in Melbourne which has a crime scene that exceeds the underbelly of Kings Cross, Michod introduces us to the Cody family who are true-blue, hardened criminals. Pope (Ben Mendelsohn), Craig (Sullivan Stapleton) and Darren (Luke Ford), are the sons of a psychotic, sociopathic matriarch called Smurf (Jackie Weaver), who makes a point of kissing them on the lips and even worse, wiping their faces with her spittle.
There’s the old saying that ‘blood is thicker than water’ and this is played out when following the death of his mother from a heroin overdose, Joshua ‘J’ Cody, contacts his estranged grandmother because he recalls that she knows how to arrange funerals. He lies to the police because he is underage and doesn’t want to be carted off into care. Hey, we all make mistakes and ‘J’ is no exception.
When tension between the brothers and the cops start to spiral out of control the characters really develop. This is the best Australian script of this genre since The Boys. The cops are no different to the criminals and are only differentiated by their uniforms. However, in the case of Nathan Leckie (Guy Pearce), the senior detective who attempts to coerce his witnesses, it is the cut of his suit which is more in keeping with the ‘real’ world. Leckie is the only sympathetic character so that while he uses ‘J’ in an attempt to get to the Codys, at the same time he genuinely feels for him.
There are some nasty subliminal moments in this film which make gratuitous violence seem tame. The inevitable use and abuse of drugs is also part of the scene and they are used to maintain the level of fear and uncertainty that permeates the Cody’s lifestyle. Unlike the bloodbath and hip drug use approach used by the likes of Tarantino and Richie, this more realistic, less cartoonish approach, is more disturbing.
Animal Kingdom is a film which should reap a few AFI nominations. Not only for Anthony Partos’s atmospheric music soundtrack which increased the tension throughout the film, but also for the solid performances. In particular Ben Mendelsohn who gets better as he gets older, Jackie Weaver who revels in the role of her career and Guy Pearce who succeeds in bordering on good and evil. The introduction of James Frecheville is a perfect addition to a company of actors who leave you feeling edgy and uncomfortable and yet at the same time exhilarated by their performances. Don’t miss this one!