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.