Review: Animal Kingdom

Animal Kingdom | David Michôd, 2010

You’ve done some bad things, sweetie

Family is supposed to be there when we are going through tough times, when we feel most alone and think that no one ever is going to care for us. At first, in Animal Kingdom we get the impression that the Cody family is going to be like that after “J” (James Frecheville) loses his mom to a heroine overdose. His estranged grandma, Janine (Jacki Weaver) takes him and, and he discovers why his mom tried to keep him away from her family. It turns out that the whole family are thieves by trade. They are not just petty thieves, but rather the kind that hold people hostage, and will likely kill a few people every now and then. In fact, the oldest son, Andrew (Ben Mendelshon), is one of the most wanted men in Australia, and he is hiding. It is only when he returns, that their life takes a turn for the worst, and with “J” as the only witness to their wrong doings, it is up to him wheter or not he is going to let his family continue to be criminals.

Animal Kingdom was, for me, the best surprise of the year so far. I knew nothing about it, other than it was Australian, watched the trailer, which told me almost nothing about it, and that Guy Pearce was in it. So, I had no expectations going in, and by the end I was blown away. David Michôd, his first feature as a director does a great job in placing us in the middle of what is going on with this family, and when they are feeling tension for whatever reason, we also feel it. Also, his script complements his vision really well. It is sharply written, with great dialogue, and well rounded characters. The only flaw in his work is that he tries to be stylish in moments where it is not needed.

The cast is equally great. The stand out is Jacki Weaver. At first you don’t think she was that important, other than being the matriarch of the family. A cold and creepy matriarch, but still, just a simple supporting role. But near the end, when it all seems hopeless to her character she gets to have her chance to shine. Here she shows how ruthless her character can be, and how far she is capable of going to protect those she loves. I got chills during that scene, and it is a perfect Oscar clip. In a weak year for supporting actresses, and I would be extremly happy, but not surprised, if she took the award home. Guy Pearce and Ben Mendelshon are also great, the former as the detective trying to bring down the family, and latter as the seemingly frail, but ultimately evil oldest brother of the Cody family. Frecheville falters a bit, but is strong nonetheless. The ensemble is only second to The Social Network as my favorite ensemble of the year.

In the technical side, it’s impressive given the movie’s budget. The cinematography is not the greatest, but it serves the gritty story just fine, the editing is adequate, and the score is actually one of the best of the year.

Animal Kingdom, while it has a familiar story, is still great due to it’s fresh take on it. I loved every second of it, making it one of the best movies of the year.

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