I knew there was more to those Aussies than just Steve Irwin.
Following the death of his mother, J (James Frecheville) finds himself living with his hitherto estranged family, under the watchful eye of his doting grandmother, Smurf (Jacki Weaver), mother to the Cody boys. J quickly comes to believe that he is a player in this world. But, as he soon discovers, this world is far larger and more menacing than he could ever imagine.
It’s a conventional plot-line, but writer/director David Michôd does a great job at handling this rather familiar story-line that most Hollywood flicks cover, and gives it an exciting and almost unpredictable edge that keeps this film ticking and ticking, until the very end. However, the whole film is not like that and I have to give it some credit for that.
The first hour of the movie, slows things up, focuses on its characters, and places us in a setting that we know isn’t nice, and is filled with people that are totally influenced by that setting. We also get a big glimpse into the lives of these criminals and just who or what they are, and it provides us with enough material to actually care for them, once their lives all become in-danger. This is one of those kinds of films were it features a slow but breezy pace to set its story up, but it’s not boring at all really, because even though there may be a lot of talking and posing going on, we know that sooner or later, the shit’s going to hit the fan real quick. And trust me, once it does hit, oh damn, it really hits!
What’s so impressive about Michôd’s is how he is able to change the tone up right in the middle and act as if none of that even happened. We all know that pretty much all of these characters in this movie, are bad people, hell, even the cops can be a little dirty here and there. Basically, what I’m trying to say is that since every character don’t quite have the best morals in their heads, you know that you can’t trust any one of them, and they feel the same way in this film. Somebody’s going to end up double-crossing somebody and when that does actually go down in this flick, it’s not predictable and it sure as hell isn’t bloated. It feels realistic and understanding considering the types of characters were dealing with here, and we see why they do the things that they have to do just to get by. Maybe they aren’t the best acts of morality, but it’s what they all think is right and what continues their existence on this planet.
The problem I had with this usual, gritty crime-drama right here, is that this film doesn’t really seem like it’s trying to say anything new that hasn’t already been said before. One of the main themes in this flick is about the dedication and bonding of family-members and how each and every single person in a family, no matter how dysfunctional or corrupt, should stick up for the other one because in the end, that’s all you got is family. This type of theme wouldn’t have bothered me if it was used back in like, say 1972, right before The Godfather came out. It seems like every one of these crime dramas says the same thing, just with a different execution and this one really had me wondering just if this genre has anything left to say at all. I was glad the way that Michôd used a different way of speaking to convey this theme, but maybe it’s time to hang-up the whole “dedication to family” element in these types of films.
Then again, if it works for the mob, I guess it can work for crime-dramas, so what do I know!
It’s impressive to know that this was James Frecheville’s first feature, and what a first feature it was as Joshua ‘J’ Cody. Right from the start of the movie, you know that this kid is a sweet little innocent guy that means no harm to anybody around him, but is stuck in a pretty crummy family and continues to get himself stuck in some terrible situations. The kid chooses to hang around this, but that doesn’t make him a bad boy and it’s obvious that this J-cat, is one of those characters that is so nice, that he almost seem like he wouldn’t even hurt a fly. However, this kid has a lot more to him than that and I have to give a Frecheville a lot of credit for bringing out some major emotions in him to have us still care for him, whenever it seemed like he really went on to the dark side. I don’t know who the dark side was in this film was, but either way, it just wasn’t going to be good for him.
Ben Mendelsohn shows up here as J’s crazy, and I do repeat, crazy uncle, Pope, and gives one of those performances where every time he is up on-screen, you can’t take your eyes off of him no matter what. This guy is a nut-ball type of a character that seems so unpredictable and so damn wild, that it would almost be a crime drama fantasy to have him in here, but the character plays out in a realistic way and almost comes off as if he was grounded by Mendelsohn’ performance. I don’t want to say that I got scared every time this guy came up on screen, but I can tell you for sure that I wasn’t looking forward to it, either. In a good way. Also, sporting one of the sickest ‘staches in all of film-history as Officer Leckie, Guy Pearce gives a very comforting performance where you know that every time this guy comes in front of the camera, that something interesting is about to be said or done, courtesy of Mr. Pearce.
The one Oscar nomination this film actually got was for Jackie Weaver as the the very touchy-feely, mommy-figure, Grandma Smurf. At first, Weaver’s character seems to take the back-burn to this story for all of these other characters to get more and more developed, while she just stayed in the back and made-out with all of her sons. However, when the tone and pace of the film starts to change, so does her character, and layer-by-layer, we start to find out who she really is. Weaver just looks downright evil with those pointy, Cartoon Network-like eye-brows and she ups the ante with the evilness whenever she talks, because it always seems like she’s going to lead to a threat from her. It’s hard to say, but she may be more scary than her kids in the movie. Which yes, is totally saying something!
Consensus: With just enough detail to focus in on its characters, tone, plot, and performances, Animal Kingdom offers us a tense and unpredictable crime story that may have the same things to say as any other movie of the same kind, but still will keep you wondering what’s going to happen next to all of these characters.
8.5 / 10 = Matinee!!