Animal Kingdom (2010)

J: "After my mum died, this was just the world I got thrown into."
By David Michôd
With James Frecheville, Jacki Weaver and Joel Edgerton

I discovered Animal Kingdom through Jacki Weaver, who in my opinion was the best thing in Silver Lining Playbooks (2012). Animal Kingdom got a lot of praise and awards and can pretty much be regarded as an Australian powerhouse when it comes to the cast, and as such I decided to give it a shot.

Animal Kingdom starts with Joshua Cody, known simply as J, sitting on a couch next to a woman and watching TV, then the paramedics come knocking at the door and we realize the woman is dead from a heroine overdose. We also find out that she was J's mother. J ends up living with his grandmother and her sons--J's uncles. We quickly realize that they are involved in bank robberies, drug trafficking and other offenses. Soon enough, J too finds himself in the wrong side of the law, as the police closes in on the Cody family and starts interrogating them.

The movie relates the story of a family who lives outside the law and the arrival of a young man in this environment. The filming is quite raw and most of the action happens indoors, with a different family member relaxing, plotting crimes, using drugs or trying to find a way to avoid the police. The Grandmother, named Janine but called Smurf, is a very powerful character and it might be argued that she is the most important part of the criminal family, even though she doesn't commit any of the crimes. She seems to know about all the illegal activities and never tries to discourage any of it.

 The casting is very strong and it doesn't take an Australian cinema expert to realize that some of the most contemporary Australian actors are present here. The main character of J is quite mysterious and hard to read, at times he seems to have a real dilemma on whether or not he should help the police get him out of there and the next minute he seems like he couldn't care less. The spiral of violence reaches great heights, without the movie becoming too graphic, possibly because the most brutal violence can be emotional and not physical. I think this might be the strong point of the movie, to display what emotional violence can be.

The movie is not without flaws however, some scenes are hard to follow and it is hard to distinguish the real motivations behind the actions of all the characters, given they all seem violent and dysfunctional. It approaches both redemption and revenge in a very close-knit family setting.

I liked: The tension, the hierarchy and strength rapports in the family. Asks some real ethical questions.

I disliked: The police seemed really bad and very little of their actions is explained. Felt a little derivative.

You might like it or not, but it shouldn't leave you indifferent.


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