There is always that stigma that comes with Australian films and when you see the critics fuss over our latest you can’t help but be wary. I have been burnt before by news that our latest Australian offerings were brilliant, only to go to the film and be bored or so depressed that I needed counselling after. Luckily this year in Australian film has renewed my hope and I am seeing the same light as everyone else. With the top notch Beneath Hill 60 and now Animal Kingdom I have to say that I am proud. This is where I will end the comparison with Beneath Hill 60 as these are totally 2 different films. Animal Kingdom is without a doubt the most impressive Australian film I have seen in a long time. Director David Michod has created a story that sucks you so deep into the film that you can’t help but struggle for breath.
With his opening credit of surveillance photos of a bank robbery to close ups of lion figures you truly are plunged into an animal kingdom. A kingdom of thieves, warriors, manipulators, saints, killers and Shakespearean mothers. Our guide into this world is 17 year old Joshua known as J (James Frecheville), Who after watching his mother O.D whilst watching Deal or No Deal, is taken in by his grandmother and her violent sons.
This is a true Aussie crime family that most Australians have glimpsed one time or another. They circle the home like pitbulls as they walk on edge waiting to explode any second. The family consists of Joel Edgerton’s Barry who is seen as the good bloke even though he is described as the man who knocks you down in the robbery, his brother Craig played scarily by Sullivan Stapleton , The Mummy’s Luke Ford as the distant brother and then to lead them all is Pope who is brilliantly played by Ben Mendelsohn against type. All these criminals are held together in an almost greek tragedy kind of way by the mother Jackie Weaver who is in the role of her career.
Young J is thrust into this family just at the time the local police are taking the law into their own hands and you can’t help but feel for the boy as his situation deteriorates to the point where he cannot tell the good from the bad. James Frecheville is great in the role as the pup amongst the lions. He plays the role with subtlety and a quiet determination as he tries to find a way out. He actually stands tall in his scenes with some of the greatest actors Australia has to offer. His scenes at home are especially noteworthy as he walks/talks and moves uncomfortably. Constantly on edge so he doesn’t set off his volatile surroundings.
Then of course we get to the rest of the cast. Sullivan Stapleton is good as the addicted brother who’s drug trade threatens to topple eldest brother Pope’s Robbery earnings. He moves through the film like a Jackal waiting to attack or be attacked. He is also the closest you get to comedic relief in the film in a scary, high type of way.
Joel Edgerton is solid as the heavy hitting brother who is also the closest to being proper father figure to J . Edgerton’s Barry long is trying to escape the lifestyle that is outgrowing him. He wants a better life but don’t be confused as he is not a better man. Luke Ford comes in as the youngest brother and the closest to J’s age. He is the one that is neither here nor there until actions force him to choose the path of his older brothers. Ford is smart in his portrayal as the one who would be strong in any other situation except for when he is with this family. His clothes and his manner show that he is trying to distance himself but is tragically not aware that he is trapped as well.
Then we have the oldest brother Pope. Ben Mendehlson, the nice guy of Australian film is transformed into a psychotic leader who is losing his grip on his family and the business that now fighting back. He is seen as the once great lion of the pack who is now scared of his own shadow as he lumbers around the screen with Aussie affability as well as menace. He oozes violence and yet you rarely see it. That’s what is so amazing about the film as you know these are all violent men but this is not a violent film. The screen oozes it but it is all implied. There is very little in the film.
To add balance and a sense of good we have Guy Pearce as the detective who genuinely wants to save J. Pearce is the amazing actor we see him as in every film and this one he plays the good cop in a bad bunch. Whilst his character isn’t perfect he is the closest to the right side of the road. His scenes and monologues as outstanding and like anytime Pearce talks , you are enthralled by the screen. He is Guy Pearce after all.
But the best acting nod goes to Jacki Weaver as the mother that holds them all together. She is sweet and ferociously maternal with “Her Boys” and there is a disturbing sexuality that she brings to her interactions with them that adds depth and understanding to why they are all so f***ked up and yet magnetized to her. She is amazing as the conniving mother who will do anything to keep her family together. In the first half you see her just as the mother who is blisssfully ignorant of her children’s lifestyles even when it’s in front of her and you almost think she may just be a victim . That is, until she shows her true side in the last half of the film and you realise she is the one who created these monsters and also the one who rules them. She sent shivers down my spine in one scene when she is talking to a crooked cop in the lawyers office. Amazing just amazing.
Director David Michod has written and directed an brilliant film that is already up there with the best Australia has ever offered. There is a Coen like quality to the film that you will recognise as it goes along. Yet there is also a bit of Eastwood with his ability to bring so much with simplicity. His scenes are basic but his amazing strength is that he knows how to create an atmosphere and a look that goes beyond the dialogue and with these amazing actors to back that vision up we are left with a movie that will stay with you long after it is over. It is also somehow disturbingly familiar as this family reminds you of that one in your street with all the cars on the lawn. But maybe that’s just my neighbourhood. Animal Kingdom is a huge film and is the reason we love crime films and is well worth the hype. Definitely go and see it.