Rated R for violence, drug content and pervasive language, 113 minutes
Highly-charged, involving crime thriller "Animal Kingdom"
"Animal Kingdom" is a superbly-acted, explosive Australian low-budget crime thriller arriving late in the summer and will be a true crime if it's not remembered come awards time. It's an auspicious directorial debut, featuring universally stellar performances, including one debut from one young actor.
Melbourne, Australia teen Joshua "J" Cody (James Frecheville) has no family after the overdosing death of his mother, so he goes to live with his estranged grandmother Janine (Jacki Weaver), also known as Smurf, who watches over her boys, a group of armed robbers and thugs. The oldest, nicknamed Pope (Ben Mendelshon) is a dangerous thug who believes he controls the family; the middle brother Craig (Sullivan Stapleton) has a hair trigger and deals cocaine on the side; the youngest Darren (Luke Ford) debates his conscience of being involved in a crime family. J realizes that he's being drawn into something far more menacing than he ever thought, and to survive he must learn his place in the family and the business or be destroyed by them.
"Animal Kingdom" is a fierce, intense and entertaining tale of a crime family that plays similar to a low-level Australian Godfather. The story is a familiar one, but it's an often frightening tale about a family who'll do anything to get ahead, even destroy their own. The film is an auspicious feature film directorial debut from Australian filmmaker David Michod, who loosely bases his script on real-life events that occurred in Australian in the late 1980's.
The layered performances and the dark tone are the highlight of "Animal Kingdom." Newcomer
Frecheville grounds the film well in a subtle, low-key performance in his debut feature film. Mendelshon is also memorable in a fervent turn as the older brother who thinks he has it all together when we all know better. Guy Pearce, the only recognizable name here, also has a few good scenes as the good guy, a detective who has J's best interests in mind.
Most memorable of all the cast is veteran Australian stage actress Weaver as the deadly matriarch, who runs the family with a kiss rather than an iron hand; she has the film's best scenes in a subtle but menacing turn. She makes all the deals, knows exactly where everyone is at all times and is at the center of all the action. Weaver's excellent, wholly believable turn is award-worthy and hopefully will be remembered come awards time later this year.
"Animal Kingdom's" engrossing story and superb acting is worth a look for the independent film that's already been a hit in its native Australia.