Animal Kingdom Review – Gripping Australian Crime Thriller

Notwithstanding the considerable difficulty your truly faced in following the Australian accent of the actors, Animal Kingdom is a fine, unpredictable crime film.

The winner of the World Cinema dramatic Grand Jury prize at the 2010 Sundance Film Festival, Animal Kingdom is the debut feature film of director David Michôd.

Crime Films

There are crime films and then there are crime films.

The first category of crime films are those with the grand gestures, played out on a large canvas and feature the likes of Hollywood artistes such as Marlon Brando, Al Pacino or Robert De Niro.

These films like Godfather, Scarface et al are now the stuff of legend and will remain so as long as motion pictures exist as a form of entertainment.

Played out on a smaller scale, the second category of crime movies usually feature less-known actors such as Viggo Mortensen and set on figuratively speaking a smaller canvas.

The movies to watch here are Eastern Promises, Gommorah et al.

Animal Kingdom belongs to the second category of crime films.

You know, the ones where the actors are often unknown/less-known mates, the director is a no-name bloke, the story is set on a smaller scale and where the criminal organization is not the grandiose Mafia-type outfit.

In Animal Kingdom, the criminal organization we witness is essentially at the level of the family.

Still Bloody

But no less violent or vengeful.

After Joshua ‘J’ Cody’s mother dies of a heroin overdose, the 17-year-old teenager (James Frecheville) goes to live with his grandma and his three uncles in Melbourne.

The uncles, particularly the eldest Pope Cody (Ben Mendelsohn), are criminals involved in armed robbery and drug peddling while grandma, the matriarch of the family turns a nelson’s eye to all the dirty, shady activities engaged in by her brood.

Played to brilliant effect by Jackie Weaver, the old lady displays a creepy, weird affection for her boys that includes kissing them on the lips (unless we’re drunk, that’s how we remember it), a cold-blooded indifference to the violent havoc they cause and a sneering, contemptuous disdain for the police as we see in her encounters with the cops at home and in the supermarket.

Into this kingdom of animals, young J enters.

When J’s mother was alive, she’d shielded him from her criminal siblings. But now there’s no protection and J’s thrust into the lion’s den.

Adding to the tension on the family is the constant surveillance by the police and reports of the cops hunting down and killing bad elements. Kinda like our Indian encounters, where the police murder alleged criminals and sometimes even innocents without due process of law.

Writer/director David Michôd’s story slowly ups the ante on the family making J’s situation increasingly difficult and complicated.

After two police officers are murdered, the cops turn up the heat on the family including J, who’s now caught in the middle of it all.

So, how will J respond to the conflicting pressures.

Will J go with the police or will he side with his new family and spin the familiar story of how he saw nothing, heard nothing and knows nothing?

No, we ain’t gonna tell you since we want you to watch this solid film.

But J is a survivor if nothing else.

For a newbie, James Frecheville does a remarkable job as the young teenager suddenly transposed into a criminal household, even if it be his close relatives.

Go Watch It

Man, the ending was a shocking surprise.

Never saw it coming. Bet you can’t, either.

The movie is playing at Lincoln Plaza in NYC (Broadway & 62nd St) in NYC and surely elsewhere too in the U.S. Check Fandango or MovieTickets or Flixster if you have an iPhone for the schedules in your area.

It’s unlikely Animal Kingdom will ever make it to Indian shores.

So all ye thieving bastards in Mera Bharat Mahaan will have to do what you, in any case, routinely do well. 😉

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