Directed by: David Michod Cast: James Frecheville, Ben Mendelsohn, Jacki Weaver, Guy Pearce Running Time: 1 hr 55 mins Rating: R Release Date: August 13, 2010
PLOT: A family of bank robbers starts to implode at the core while an investigator (Pearce) attempts to save the youngest member (Frecheville) with an introduction to justice.
WHO'S IT FOR?: Fans of grimy underworld movies who are intrigued by a domestic twist.
EXPECTATIONS: I only had the vague remembrance of liking the trailer for this movie, which I must’ve seen maybe five months ago.
James Frecheville as Joshua: The new actor gives a stoic performance as a semi-naive young man entering a world more evil than he could have imagined. When the dramatic weight is dumped on him in the third act, he does not folly with adding support. Score: 7
Ben Mendelsohn as Pope: Despite his scrawny appearance, he is easily the most intimidating of all of the brothers. Mendelsohn carries with him a fierce performance that transcends his originally puny looks, and matches the "majestic" nickname of which he has been bestowed. Apparently, you don’t have to look “evil” to be extremely evil. Score: 8
Guy Pearce as Leckie: With a Ned Flanders like appearance, Pearce shows up in the second act and remains a key player onward. Leckie is Josh’s last hope at salvation from being swallowed up by the darkness that dominates his uncles. Though the pleasant manner and mustache is quite reminiscent of Homer Simpson’s neighbor, Pearce makes this character a strong one, one who is not naïve to whatever lies Josh may be telling him, but is a police investigator with enough patience to wait for the truth to come out. Score: 7
Jacki Weaver as Janine Cody: She loves her son to a point that is awkwardly semi-incestual. For the first two acts, she is mostly in the background. When Josh starts “acting up,” she smashes down that wall and begins to foam at the mouth. Walks out of her care-taking shadow and out into a very visibly evil spot, she becomes a certain type of “Godmother” who tries to take hold the reigns of wickedness. Score: 8
TALKING: Opening character Josh has a noir-like narration that is only heard in the beginning when the uncles need introductions. The best bit of dialogue comes from Pearce’s monologue about the survival of the wild, which is a fitting reference to the entirety of Animal Kingdom. For those unfamiliar with Aussie accents, the words are hardly garbled up or difficult to understand. The only difficult element of catch-up might come with the names of the uncles, which sound too similar to be differentiated. Score: 6
SIGHTS: True to the animalistic nature of this movie, the “family” is shot very intimately with a fair amount of close-ups during their scenes of hibernation. Key moments in the film are presented in glorious slow motion, which continues the film’s mission of capturing these Australian gangsters as if it were a grittier version of National Geographic. Score: 8
SOUNDS: Music makes its most bombastic appearance in the entirety of Animal Kingdom during the excited credit sequence. The rest of the film prefers ominous tones over any sort of score. After an important character meets an unfortunate fate halfway through, Air Supply’s “All Out of Love” makes a brief appearance on a TV, which is confusing tonally to the rest of the serious darkness that covers Animal Kingdom. One audible element that is not the least bit goofy are the animal roars which are thrown in during certain moments of action – in MacGruber it was comical, but here it is somehow not. Score: 6
BEST SCENE: Though there are plenty of worthy scenes of this title throughout the movie, but none has a sweeter payoff than the moment at the very end.
ENDING: A startling cut to black says all that is necessary with a thrilling “cap” to a great third act.
REWATCHABILITY: This is the kind of thrilling experience you want to share with your friends, and even watch it with them. Animal Kingdom doesn’t warrant any immediate revisit, but another tour into its depths hardly sounds unenjoyable.
As the characters are unraveled, so tightly the script gets with Animal Kingdom, a ferocious domestic thriller about a group of thuggish Aussies that slowly boils until a spectacular third act. First time writer/director David Michod shows excellent puppeteer skill as he controls his characters (including similar looking brothers) and moves them in and out of focus as rightfully necessary. At times, Joshua seems to be the main focus, and in others, Pope appears to be the king lion that we should be thinking of the most. Doing this switcheroo, Michod still grips his audience with a tight fist, and as the story progresses, knocks us about with some slamming dramatic moments. By the end of Animal Kingdom, that rock-hard hand has pummeled us into a state that defines this stunning debut: a knockout.
FINAL SCORE: 8/10