Tuesday, February 01, 2011

Animal Kingdom Turns Lambs into Lions

Animal Kingdom

I originally saw Animal Kingdom a few months ago but it recently popped back into my mind at last week’s Toronto Film Bloggers pub night. I was in conversation with another blogger who was discussing how the ending of Incendies nearly ruined the film, which she had loved up to that point. While I still have to see Incendies, I could relate. I experienced a similar reaction with David Michôd’s debut film Animal Kingdom.

Focusing on the inner works of an Australian crime family, Animal Kingdom examines the bonds of family loyalty. After his mother dies of an overdose, Josh (James Frecheville) is sent to live with his grandmother Janine Cody (Jacki Weaver) and her three sons: Craig (Sullivan Stapleton), Darren (Luke Ford), and Andrew aka Pope (Ben Mendelsohn). All three sons are involved in criminal activities as Craig sells drugs and Darren is learning to be an armed robber like Pope. The Melbourne police’s armed robbery division, led by Leckie (Guy Pearce), has been after Pope and his buddy Barry Brown (Joel Edgerton) for quite some time with very little success. Leckie believes that Josh may be the one person they need to bring down Pope and the rest of the clan. As the battle between the Cody family and the police intensify, Josh finds himself stuck in the middle unsure of whom he can really trust.

Animal Kingdom is a film that immediately grabs you at the beginning and holds onto you tight for the first two thirds of the film. Michôd creates an unsettling world where the unspoken elements are just as dangerous as the ones that are openly acknowledged. Although a crime film at heart, Animal Kingdom never sheds too much light on how the robberies are committed. This film is all about the family interaction and how the survival of the fittest mentality applies to their complicated life.

While I was in love with this film for the most part, I could not help feeling a little disappointed at the end. Actually, the ending of this film really bothered me. I found that the last twenty minutes or so of this film undermines many of the great things found in the second half of the film. For example, Josh takes such a roundabout way of reaching his conclusion that when the ending finally does occur I could not help but question why did Michôd even bothered with some of the earlier elements at the film. It ultimately took away from the impact that the ending was trying to achieve.

The last twenty minutes aside, there is enough that I really loved about Animal Kingdom to recommend it to others. One of the films strengths is the ensemble work by the cast. Jacki Weaver received a much deserved Oscar nomination for her work as Janine. Weaver gives a creepy performance as the ruthless mother whose love for her boys may exceed the normal boundaries of a mother/child relationship. Yet for me the real highlight of the film is Ben Mendelsohn’s work as Pope. At first Pope appears to be nothing more than a shell of a man hiding from the law. As the film progresses Mendelsohn shows just how dangerous a man like Pope can really be.

Despite my qualms with the way the film ends, Animal Kingdom is still a strong debut from David Michôd. The film is a worthy addition to extensive list of memorable crime films in the canon of cinema.


  1. Didn't actually *read* this post since I'll be seeing the film this week and want to go in blind...I just wanted to say that I love the movie market we live in since it affords me the chance to see this on a big screen even this week - months after it was first released.

  2. This is a movie I plan to see.

  3. nice review. i loved many aspects of this film specifically jacki weaver and the use of air supply. some tense moments too.

  4. Stapelton is still the standout for me, but I think everyone does well in their roles. Seamless direction and editing, a good script and excellent performances. Can you blame me for loving it?
    (And what a debut performance from Frecheville.)

  5. @Hatter – I came close to writing a piece on this fact when TIFF rolled around. As a city, we really takes for granted how truly lucky we are. The film options we have are just insane when you really think about it.

    @Ricky – It should be available on DVD now, so hopefully you can see it soon.

    @Mr.Jeffrey – The music was well done in this film. I also agree with you about the film having several tense moments. Mendelsohn and Weaver really had me on the edge of my seat at times.

    @Andrew – Stapleton did a good job but need more time to shine on his own. Whenever he had to share the screen with either Mendelsohn or Weaver, his performance was always overshadowed by theirs. Frecheville showed a lot of promise in this film. Hopefully he will get a few more roles based on his work here.


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