Animal Kingdom Reviews
"Mom kept me away from her family because she was scared. I didn't know it at the time, but they were all scared, even if they didn't show it [...]. Even if they didn't know it, exactly. Even if they were having to do what crooks do all the time, which is block out the thing they must know - they must know it - which is that crooks always come undone, one way or another. [...] All this seemed strange to me, but not strange, either, you know what I mean? Kids just are wherever they are, and they just do whatever they're doing. This is where I was, and this is what I was doing."
Josh's mom has just died of a drug overdose, and he tells us all this over the opening ten minutes, punctuated by a few telling conversations, as we see the family that he has no choice but to move in with, and the crimes he won't be able to help getting mixed up in. With the die cast, the stakes remain high, as this coming-of-age story has an angle like few others; as opposed to having to prove himself in the world of crime, Josh needs only to survive. Tense and well-acted, sincere but gritty, it's got several surprises and most importantly, comes across as a story that could be true. An unconventional crime flick that you must see.
The film is shot rather conventionally but is filled with imagery revolving around the title. Although the idea isn't original what is original is Animal Kingdom's spin on it, relating a criminal family to a pack of lions.
Overall, although unoriginal 'Animal Kingdom' is a worthwhile watch with strong performances and an interesting spin on a much used subject.
Essentially the story is of a teen boy who is taken in by Grandma after his mother dies of an overdose. The boy, Joshua comes off as somewhat wooden, full of "I dunno" and shrugs that, while typical of a teen, don't really amp up the drama; though you kind of feel for him as his situation becomes something where he's caught between the rock and the proverbial hard place.
Since I've already mentioned "Goodfellas" it won't be giving anything away to tell you that this is about a small to mid level crime family, obstensively run by Grandma (though while she seems to have fingers in many a pie, it is obvious that she cannot control her four sons, especially Pope, who is convincing as some kind of amoral loose canon. It is his actions that move the film... and that's the problem. For a family who has been successfully running several criminal operations for many a year, Pope sure does some really stupid things - the kind of things that make you wonder why he wasn't caught and put behind bars years ago.
The coppers here are portrayed as being hamstrung by the system - they keep making arrests, but the family keeps getting released, if for no other reason than it suits the ultimate plot setup, which has Joshua being cajoled into narcing on his family... all the while being coached by the family's lawyer in how to double deal. This part of the film is compelling, as the cops put him into a kind of witness protection, where Joshua finds out that there are elements within the police force who want him dead. The motivation for their desires is obvious to the viewer, but we're left wondering if Joshua can figure it all out. It's a nice cat and mouse game, but, once again, Joshua doesn't seem convincing in the part.
The film also spends far too much time setting a mood - showing us way too many "normal" scenes of the family, or Joshua's girl friend's family having a meal. To what end are all these eating scenes - there's little dialog of purpose here, so unless (and this could be a big reach) director/writer David Michod is giving some kind of oblique nod to the film's title, there can only be the underlying message that the members of this crime family are really just regular blokes... but then why show the girl friend's family meals? As for the girlfriend, Michod missed a real opportunity to develop a fascinating character -she remained a mere means to an end, and her tale unexplored.
This film was a winner at Sundance, and sadly, though there are some nice elements, I just couldn't get emotionally involved with Joshua's plight, nor did I find Pope, as the enforcer part of the family, convincing - except as a crazed buffoon doing the kind of things that no longstanding criminal with any brains would tolerate.
After the accidental death of his heroin addicted mother, 17 year-old Joshua 'J' Cody (James Frecheville) goes to live with his grandmother, 'Smurf' (Jacki Weaver), and her criminal sons, Craig (Sullivan Stapleton) and Darren (Luke Ford). The sudden arrival of their fugitive older brother, Pope (Ben Mendelsohn), gets the attention of the local cops, kick-starting a turf war that sees 'J' forced to fight for his survival.
As the film opens we get a decent introduction to the stoical nature of young 'J' as he shows a real lack of compassion, sitting on the couch watching TV, next to his deceased mother. This persona is no different from most of the characters throughout the film. The majority of them are devoid of any morals and the actors portraying them put in fantastic performances, particularly Mendelsohn as the unstable uncle and especially Weaver as the wicked-witch like matriarch. Despite the performances though, I still stuggled to see what all the fuss was about. Much like "Winter's Bone" from the same year, this has been subject to critics clambering over each other to applaud it's gritty dramatic nature. I found several things to enjoy; the performances and low-key style in which it's shot being the notable ones but it's certainly nothing groundbreaking. Being loosely based on fact, there's a definite feeling of realism but as mentioned earlier, it reminded me of an extended episode of "Neighbours" - with the gloves off - and I pretty much avoid Australian television whenever possible.
Not a bad film, in fact it's very good in places but it's been overpraised somewhat. There's no faulting the flawless performances though and it'll be interesting to see what writer/director David Michod comes up with next.
The ending was a little disappointing and I guess I am weary of too many australian films of this genre. Yes, we have a lot of d*heads here. Does every other local film have to feature them?!
As I said, though, very good cast and very well made film. I was especially impressed with the young actor it follows - perhaps that is why the ending didn't cut it for me. His portrayal of the character made me care and want better things for this young guy.
The protagonist, a teenager named Josh, is born into an organized crime family. His mother has just died of a heroine overdose, and he is left in the care of his grandmother (Weaver), who might be more of a danger to him than a guardian. Josh has a girlfriend who he is madly in love with, one of the reasons why he wants to stay away from the life of crime that all his uncles are into, but unfortunately, he keeps getting sucked into it through fear and pressure.
Twists and turns aplenty, very few of them contrived, Animal Kingdom is an original take on a tired genre. This is a gripping film about being born into circumstances out of your control, and having to fight yourself, the law, and your own family just to survive.