Reviews of Animal Kingdom
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The gritty and realistic tone and look of this Australian crime drama inspired by real events keeps me on edge throughout the time as it portrays a teenage boy caught up in a dilemma on dangerous ground that he never wished he was apart of. The way our main character, J. (James Frecheville), is reunited with his estranged criminal relatives after his mother’s death is awkward at best with his fairly young uncles, but only is welcomed with warm arms by his grandmother Janine (Jackie Weaver), who carries incestuous undertones to the way she kisses her sons.
It seems like an innocent life, especially with the presence of the family’s close associate Braz (Joel Edgerton) behaving as a family-oriented man who doesn’t behave like a rough gangster, compared to the oldest son in the family, Pope (Ben Mendelsohn), who the family feels tense around. Darren (Luke Ford) comes as more quiet and shy and Craig (Sullivan Stapleton) as a rowdy smoking hooligan, which keeps distinguishing the brothers as to what they bring to the family. They come as normal in those ways without coming off as too dangerous for J. to be around and that they can fill in what was lost to him by his mother’s drug addiction and later death. When a sudden tragic loss shakes the family, Pope doesn’t hesitate to take matters into his own hands in a cold-blooded manner, which only endangers the family more and puts J. in a dangerous dilemma when he becomes the key witness for the police against his family’s crimes. Pope is least of all hard on J. to keep quiet about anything to the police, but his paranoia and psychotic tendencies are more uncontrollable than J. thinks and he grows more afraid of him. He is not safe with his family, not even the police either, even though the compassionate police sergeant Leckie (Guy Pearce) assures him that he is being protected by the “strong” when his family cannot, the way it works in the animal kingdom when the wild mammals have to look after their packs.
J. is not very strong, he is traumatized, dazed, and nervous in his expressions and behavior which James Frecheville conveys authentically and quietly in his performance. He is the eyes for the audience and the one we can sympathize with the most because he wants nothing to do with his family’s lifestyle, but he doesn’t want to pay the price for turning against for them, regardless of how much Leckie tries to protect him when he’s oblivious to the numbers of corrupt cops who have taken matters into their own hands or have connections with the family. The lawyer to the family is not very trustworthy either as he is smug a coke-addled scumbag who doesn’t like defending J. on the family’s behalf and regards him as a stupid kid that he wouldn’t care if he ended up getting killed. J. can’t feel safe with anyone, especially when his granny Janine is determined to protect her sons at any cost and schemes in a sweet devious way to make sure of that, which shows a different layer in Weaver’s performance as opposed to just being a sweet dumb matriarch. Mendelsohn makes Pope more intimidating and frightening to feel safe around because at any moment that he’s compelled to snap, he won’t settle it down in a talk. With him, the tension is always on and it raises the stakes higher.
This is a gritty and treacherous world where good and evil are hard to distinguish when you’re surrounded by the greedy, the psychotic, and the corrupt who do anything to protect their own sides with gruesome methods. It’s not something the young protagonist wants to be involved with that his innocence seems broken by the experience. It’s a dark trial for a coming-of-age story and it can make us feel as traumatized and scared of our surroundings just as J. is about his. When your only family acts like the lions protecting your skin, they can just easily rip you to pieces. When the law seems like they’re the strong ones protecting the innocent from danger, they are also capable of exploiting that job for their own benefit. That kind of life can make your life feel like a joke when no moral deed can make a difference in the end when both sides are equally dangerous and corrupt, which makes it harder to see how you can find your way out of that life with nowhere else to go.
The suspense keeps pounding in the heart for J. as he struggles for a compromising solution to this life-and-death dilemma and it’s hard to breathe once it’s over because the social climate of the underworld and the corrupt is much scarier to live with than what you see in horror films. It’s an undying problem in society that makes people feel trapped and unsafe when there is no strong moral boundary and you have to find a survival method to live in that animal kingdom. We are not always so different from animals when we always need survival methods to stand against the threats in our kingdom to the extreme, something which we are learning with J. as he grows through the situation and leaves a heavy impact on the audience for its gritty authentic look at a real lifestyle.
- Currently 4.0/5 Stars.
Dans ce beau portrait de famille, semblable à des fauves (à le ralenti des baisers à la chef de meute, qui rappelle le cinéma animalier ! et qui donne à l’ensemble un parfum musqué, sauvage), David Michôd signe un film noir, particulièrement rugueux et sec, qui ne cherche à rien magnifier, surtout pas la nullité crasse du clan. L’intrigue, les personnages, les effets de réalisation nous mettent en alerte sensorielle maximum… une alerte en grande partie déçue par le manque de prise qu’offrent l’histoire, les acteurs et la réalisation. Le manque de sentiment, l’expressivité, la lenteur de l’action… semblent nous refuser le plaisir que nos sens appelaient. Dommage.
- Currently 2.0/5 Stars.
Animal Kingdom is a true Australian movie without being anything like what we’ve come to think an Australian movie should be. The Outback serves no purpose here, neither to tantalize nor brutalize, though life in the bush serves as an important metaphor for the urban jungles of Melbourne.
In its title, after all, the film promises comparisons between human violence against our own species and the territorial wars among wild beasts, hence the engraved picture of a pride of lions against the opening credits. Oliver Stone tried a similar analogy in Natural Born Killers, but it’s more subtle here. “Show him who’s king,” a thug tells his young prodigy as he hands him a revolver early in the film to settle a traffic dispute. In its bleak expose of Melbourne’s hidden worlds, Animal Kingdom paints a truer picture of Australia than Australia did.
Michôd focuses on one family, the Codys, a dirty gang of scoundrels, junkies, and robbers very typical of the crime rings that popped up in Melbourne in the last twenty years. Leading the mob is the seemingly sweet matriarch Grandma Smurf (Jacki Weaver), who is beneath her gentle smiles and motherly comforts even nastier than her sons. Oh, she does love her boys, perhaps a little too much. The most redeemable is Darren (Luke Ford) and the most hysterical is the drug dealer Craig (Sullivan Stapleton). Working with the family is their brutish associate Baz (Joel Edgerton) who, despite his reputation as a merciless armed robber, does try to be something of a positive father figure in his own way and steer the brothers to a respectable life. One brother has disappeared and has been hiding ever since the police Armed Robbery Squad began staking out Baz’s house. When the film opens, Grandma adopts young Josh (James Frecheville), the son of her estranged daughter who has just died of an overdose.
Michôd zeros in on the clan so closely he never moves back to show the outside world, creating a stark feeling of entrapment effective enough to tell us how few alternatives Josh has for a better future once his family takes him in. Most everyone we see is connected to the Codys in some way, be they a corrupt detective from the drug squad, a crooked lawyer, or an uninvolved associate who becomes a reluctant sanctuary for Craig on his last desperate flight from the law. Even Josh’s girlfriend Nicole (Laura Wheelwright), brought up by caring parents concerned about her future, is sucked (not entirely unwillingly) into the horror that is life with the Codys.
Josh doesn’t seem to mind his new life much, rationalizing it as “strange but not strange at the same time”, likely because his mother, though she tried, never was able to shake off her upbringing. But things get worse when Uncle Pope (Ben Mendelsohn) returns home and takes over as the new leader, taking the family into a direction the more responsible Baz was trying to finally push them away from.
Pope is an increasingly frightening monster of a man and Mendelsohn gives one of the most accurate depictions of a psychopath ever seen in the movies. We take him first as a criminal trying to right, at least by his family. There are moments when we come close to buying his act, especially when he tries to get Darren to open up about his inhibited sexuality and later when he reaches out to Josh. Our suspicions are heightened, however, during an ostensibly playful tussle with Craig, which Michôd films in slow motion, capturing the pent up aggression can burst through their faux unity. Games lead to savagery and, indeed, Pope was testing the brothers out as participants for a heinous revenge plan. But the Codys know of their pending doom. “Crooks always come undone,” Josh observes in voice-over narration and they are all aware of the inevitable. Only Baz seeks a way out, though, albeit too late. His death, at the hands of the police Armed Robbery Squad, is the catalyst for a chain of violence that brings the Cody legacy crumbling to the ground.
But alternatives are never shown within reach of the boys, so it’s doubtful anything could have changed the course of events. Baz talks of possibilities in the stock market, but no pathway there is in sight. In rejecting the idea as futile, maybe Pope is more realistic than Baz after all.
The only player existing in outside the sphere of crime and tragedy is the concerned detective Nathan Leckie played by Guy Pearce, for once using his own voice. If Animal Kingdom offers a beacon of hope amidst the moral decay, Leckie offers Josh his best chance for escape and a trustworthy father figure.
But Animal Kingdom is a film with little joy or signs of hope, but such things would have been a cheat to Michôd’s vision. His effectiveness is in his honesty. Josh ultimately escapes the clutches of his family not by following Leckie’s lead but by essentially playing his family at their own game. That is the closest Michôd comes to an upbeat ending.
Happy endings always seemed to evade Josh, though, since the path toward was hardly ever in his sight. From the moment his grandmother took him in, he practically resigned to his fate as a Cody. The Codys live in a closed world and accepting Leckie’s help is Josh’s only way out. But his uncles have friends in high places with a grip so strong that any help Leckie could offer is quickly obstructed. In the end, Josh disappoints his only true friend for the sake of his own revenge scheme, which only entraps him further in an unseen dark future.
Crime movies often fall into the trap of seducing us with the very hoods they aim to condemn. But the Codys have no glamour or charm to speak of. They are a broken family given to crime in despair. Sure, Baz and Craig buy fine homes with their loot, but there is no elegance to their lives. They steal like rats do, as a means of survival.
Michôd’s best decision was to unsensationalize the violence. The atrocities, committed with no romance or finesse, inspire not shock but gloom. Michôd creates his horror with subtle touches only a skilled filmmaker can muster. For instance, the killing of two police officers as retaliation for the death of Baz is not a cheap surprise to punctuate brooding tension. Instead, Michôd begins by showing us the two young cops preparing for their shift, receiving the call about an abandoned car, and the cold-blooded finale, absorbing us into the tragedy of the moment.
He even knows how to question our own sensibilities in a more complicated way when Craig meets his demise at the hands of the increasingly hostile police force. In a state of acute paranoia, Craig takes refuge in a friend’s farm, but the cops have the place bugged. They arrive and he runs, but we know as well as Craig does that his death is inevitable and as loathsome as he is the weight of the tragedy cannot be denied.
Animal Kingdom is uncompromising, dark, and somber, but not without a level of poignancy. That Michôd doesn’t force a ray of sunshine where he doesn’t see that one should be is not to say that his stance isn’t heartfelt. His movie is a tragedy with very real bleakness. Animal Kingdom may not be reassuring, but it is exactly the film Michôd wants it to be, an unrelenting depiction of a side of modern Australia seldom acknowledged. Few directors are so concise in their vision. He has an unyielding dedication to getting where he wants to go as a director and takes no shortcuts. In Animal Kingdom he offers us the truth and only the truth, take it or leave it.
Il arrive de temps en temps que d’Australie, ou d’autres pays anglophones, proviennent des films qu’on croirait issus du moule hollywoodien. Animal Kingdom, grand prix à Sundance cette année, en fait partie.
La ruse du film de David Michôd est simple mais parfaitement exécutée : transvaser un fantasme américain – la famille de psychopathes criminels – dans un paysage étranger, commun par la langue. C’est l’illusion première mise en œuvre par le film, qui a su tromper les jurés à Sundance et failli leurrer l’académie des Oscars. C’est une vieille soupe dans un meilleur pot.
Animal Kingdom se déroule à Melbourne de nos jours. Narrée du point de vue de Josh, agneau innocent et témoin de l’histoire, cette trame conventionnelle, filmée en Scope pour le style, use et abuse de codes moraux manichéens et datés. Ceux-ci excluent l’émotion et la sensibilité d’un long-métrage qui se transforme en polar où l’intrigue repose non pas sur la narration mais sur le degré de perversité des protagonistes.
Alors Josh, subterfuge de scénariste à défaut d’avoir une utilité dramatique propre, devient le contrepoint d’une famille dont le sadisme transparaît à chaque séquence, accumulation de vexations et d’actions immorales. Celle-ci finit par positionner le spectateur contre ses membres, contre l’intrigue, contre le film.
Animal Kingdom n’est pourtant pas dépourvu de séquences intéressantes, voire prometteuses (certaines incluant Josh, celles avec la matriarche – interprétée par Jackie Weaver -, la fin). L’introspection de Josh est également une caractérisation bien pensée. Cependant, l’absence de dimension tragique grève en permanence toute dramaturgie fonctionnelle, et même les efforts cabotins de Guy Pearce ne suffisent plus à ramener le spectateur dans un film qu’il a définitivement quitté. C’est que le film australien, en jouant le tout psychologique et la simplification excessive, finit sa course dans un entre-deux amer où se confrontent le film rêvé et l’objet réalisé par David Michôd.
Le schéma global du long-métrage est finalement épuisant par sa dimension caricaturale (même pas assumée) : l’innocence, la désillusion, l’horreur, la culpabilité, le sacrifice, la vengeance morale. Cette suite prévisible et transparente désamorce à elle seule toute adhésion à ce qu’on pourrait appeler cruellement un film de gare.
Nul doute qu’Hollywood s’attachera prochainement les services de David Michôd dans une énième recette de vieille soupe, sûrement un thriller policé et froid, où le peu d’âme qui transparaissait dans cet Animal Kingdom sera depuis longtemps évanoui. C’est que des sirènes puissantes partagent désormais le cinéma entre ceux qui cherchent à le réinventer et ceux qui se contentent de l’imiter.
Et Josh de préfigurer le cinéaste qui reste apathique devant l’imitation qu’il a produite, aliénation de tout un pan de cinéma américain, singerie maladroite de Sidney Lumet, de Jerry Schatzberg, de Michael Mann. Personne n’aime les copieurs.
- Currently 3.0/5 Stars.
Title: Animal Kingdom
Director: David Michôd
Writers: David Michôd
An earthy story of how a LION KING is born in an Australian pusher family. I think it is a brave film in spite of its comfortless representation.
The film is surrounded by a sullen emotion since its very beginning, a young boy was watching the TV while while his dead mother was lying beside him in the sofa. The instant feeling was that this boy must be exceptional in some ways. Then we witnessed the downhill of a maternal criminal family, until the final moment (literally in the end), I could be relieved to see the young stud has metamorphosed to be the new backbone of the family (otherwise the film would be so depressed).
Writer and the first-time director David Michod actually did a great job, the thriller tension is excellently built, though the camera work is somewhat biased toward inexpertness, which creates some uneasiness for spectators. The score is repetitious each time the suspenseful moments are near (with an unimaginative melody).
The film began as a Sundance winner, and swept 2010 Australian Film Institute Awards too, and now buzz for Jacki Weaver’s coming Oscar nomination is strong, I do adore her performance and I think she deserves an nomination (not my win though), especially the sharp tenacity and cruelness under her sweet voice, also the mother fixation between her and her sons is well exposed. Ben Mendelsohn deserves some recognition as well as the creepy and vicious uncle; as for the new-comer James Frecheville, his performance is comparatively prosaic, I cannot sense the changeover of his character, which is a major disappointment for me.
It’s a brave Aussie indie film and does add some fresh air into the over-crowded gangster/police thriller genre, good luck in the Oscars (not a main contender, but a supporting actress and a screenplay nomination should be highly possible)!
- Currently 4.0/5 Stars.
This twisted family crime drama is one of the best things to come out of Australia since The Proposition. Similar to how Copland (Sylvester Stallone’s shinning moment as an actor) was looked upon as a modern-day western, i’d look at Animal Kingdom same the way. In fact, Its like a cross between a los angeles crime drama mixed with the western genre.
A lot of the recent films to come out of Australia all seem to share the same moody atmosphere, missing from a lot of US crime/dramas. Ever since the great Australian directors like Peter Weir and Nicholas Roeg moved away from the Australian film scene, there haven’t been to many classics to come out of that continent. In fact, Alex Proyas, the only somewhat more recent Australian director to show some kind of promise in the late 80’s and early 90’s (Crow and Dark City) went on make typical Hollywood films like I Robot and Knowing. But it looks like over the last couple of years, Australia has been making its presence known in the film world (especially the crime genre). Animal Kingdom will surely be a classic (at least to the australian film scene) later on down the road. The film is loosely based on real life events that took place in Melbourne Australia in the late 80’s. In the story, the main character (Josh) goes to live with his family of criminals after his mother OD’s. His new family situation is quite strange. All of his uncles and cousins seems to be very open about their criminal lifestyle. All but one of his uncles seems to be normal/level-headed. And they all seem to be under the lead of their; mother, Janine (played by Jacki Weaver) who not only exhibits some serious incestuous undertones towards her sons but doesnt seem to care that they’re criminals. After one of them is murdered by the police, the oldest brother gets revenge by murdering two random patrolmen. Josh gets caught up in the middle, and struggles with weather or not to be loyal to his family or to testify against them for the murder of the two police. Things get complicated when his family suspects he will testify against them, and they set out a plan to silence him. A lot of the moodiness in the film comes from dark, ambient soundtrack, similar to the films of Michael Mann (Collateral, Miami Vice, Heat, etc). Animal Kingdom has great acting all around, but the standout performance comes from Ben Mendelsohn (who plays the eldest brother and Josh’s uncle). Fans of movies like The Last Wave and Walkabout will surely enjoy this.
- Currently 4.0/5 Stars.
2010 has proven to be quite the year for Australian cinema. We had the Edgerton Brothers’ neo-noir crime flick “The Square”. A film which I highly praised and stated it as being one of the year’s better released films. Along with that we were also treated too “I Love You Too”, a romantic comedy whose heart and charm weren’t enough to make it entertaining fair. Now we’re being treated to what I believe, wholeheartedly, is one of the best crime films, if not the best, in recent years. “Animal Kingdom”, directed by David Michod, is a brutal yet interesting film that will more than likely be on many critics’ top picks come Oscar season.
The film is a classic crime tale that evolves around one center character, Josh. Josh, played by a young James Frecheville and the film’s opening shot tells us everything we need to know. James, or “J” watches a game show while his mother overdoses from heroin. Comparable to last year’s “A Prophet”-a French crime film which was also my personal favorite of the year-the film does focus on a young man caught up in the world of crime. But with Animal Kingdom, “J” is more so held under than really caught up in. He comes from a family of criminals, all of which restrain young Josh from the real world and throw him quickly into the life of crime.
Frechville’s performance is outstanding. Since the film is mainly told from his point of view we become more and more involved as the story becomes more and more complex. His performance is restrained but fittingly so. His street hardened attitude is relatable and understandable. From the beginning we see his life as a result of a hard life but we begin to realize just how helpless and trapped young Josh is in all of this. Frechville’s nervousness, muted voice, and hard eyes are captured to a near perfect by Michod whose proving that he’s a director who understands actors.
Young Josh is held down by his overly demeaning family. More so from Andrew ‘Pope’ Cody (Ben Mendelsohn), his brothers Darren (Luke Ford), Craig (Sullivan Stapleton) and friend Barry (Joel Edgerton). Pope, like his brothers and their mother, has the general attitude that everyone is for themselves even though they’re all part of the same unified family. “J” represents, though he is directly part of the family, the outsider. The one who threatens their criminal way of life. All of this only becomes worse as “J” is apprehended by the police. This of course creates all sorts of problems for the family many of which are guided along by Detective Senior Sergeant Nathan Leckie (Guy Pearce). The film is a prime example of how good storytelling is told slowly and is eventually amounted into a stunning conclusion.
Leckie is, to an extent, “J’s” guardian angel and rescuer. Pearce, who has been fairly absent from the world of film, give another top notch performance to add to his ever expanding list of great performance. The scenes between the two are intimate, suspenseful, and entertaining.
The entire film consists of fine performances but the best one comes from Jackie Weaver as the mother. Shes a serpent who’ll just as quickly invite you into her home and give you a cup of tea as she would stab you in the back. Her heavy smiles and demeaning eyes make her performance the most watchable out of all the others. The other top star here is Mendelsohn who delivers one of the more arresting performances of the year. “Pope” is a frightening figure, one whose dark and mysterious nature is a dangerous weapon when combined with his drug-fueled brutality. He’s the kind of man who would explode into a blast of violence and brutality just at the sight or sound of the slightest insult. And that is what make’s a great actor.
But rather than putting all of the praise on select actors; to be fair the whole cast does a fine job of bringing to life these conflicted and morally complex characters to the screen. The film is, to an extent, flawless. The only minor flaws are mainly coming from the film’s story. Its a regularly used premise, but one thats given a modern day spin. Though despite this the film does have a tendency to be fairly predictable. But all of the predictability is delivered with enough suspense that its able to keep you invested for its whole run. Also aiding this film in its quest is the excellent cinematography which is done both beautifully and gritty. Along with that we’re given some excellent editing and sound design which is aided by the help of an excellent soundtrack which features Air Supply’s “All Out of Love”.
This film made headlines earlier this year at the Sundance film festival, and rightfully so. Michod has created something of a crime classic, a film which can hold itself up to other modern day crime classics like The Coen Brother’s “No Country for Old Men” and Martin Scorsese’s “The Departed.” He knows how to keep a scene going for just the right amount of time while at the same time quickly cutting away any unnecessary material. He’s also given us an inventive and enthralling story that makes the viewer question just who is the hero and who is the villain.
“Animal Kingdom” says allot for the Australian cinema. The film has already been released over in Australia and I was lucky enough to get a screener for it. But this is a film that is utterly watchable and deserves to be seen. Another testament to Australia’s growing influence on the film industry. Animal Kingdom is by far the year’s best film and the best crime film in years. Its a dark, edgy, engrossing, and nail-biting slow burn crime drama that captures and enthralls you in its brutality, criminality, and ultimately, humanity. A