After his mother's death, 17 year-old Josh (James Frecheville) moves in with his maternal grandmother, 'Surfie' (Jacki Weaver) and her sons Darren (Luke Ford), Baz (Joel Edgerton), and Craig (Sullivan Stapleton). They're all crooks, as is his uncle Andrew 'Pope' (Ben Mendelsohn) who is in hiding, even as cops from the Armed Holdup Squad keep watch outside the family home. When a bitter war erupts between the family and the cops, Josh plays a seemingly small role - but it becomes pivotal in the investigation headed by Inspector Leckie (Guy Pearce) and his partner Detective Norris (Anthony Hayes). Leckie tries to convince Josh he should give evidence against his uncles - but everything goes wrong as the animals in the criminal jungle lose the plot.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
Smoking with the embers of yesterday's newspapers with headlines of Melbourne's underworld killings, Animal Kingdom is a superbly written and crafted crime drama - the kind that Australians are well accustomed to making ... for television. It's a pleasure to see an Australian genre movie in which story and character are given equal importance and are so well defined and delivered. That it won a major award at Sundance shows its creative credentials: its popularity will show its audience appeal.
Newcomer James Frecheville plays the initially gormless youth whose criminal uncles - and their matriarch mum (played with equal brio and nuance by Jacki Weaver) - gradually draw him into their world. It's a simple and menial task involving stealing a car, but the repercussions are extensive and tragic. It's a hero's journey, and the hero has to overcome some tough obstacles to survive.
Frecheville makes Josh a sullen youth of few words - but as we know, still waters run deep. His taciturn nature serves the film well, and his character development is subtle and credible. Ben Mendelsohn again demonstrates his extraordinary talent in the role of the family's nastiest piece of work, ironically nicknamed Pope, and Sullivan Stapleton is terrific as the edgy Craig. Guy Pearce does wonders with the role of the detective, making Leckie both a tough cop and a real human being and all the supports are exceptional.
Antony Partos has composed another gutsy score with plenty of light and shade that helps underpin the ill-fated journey of a crime family whose undoing is tragic, in the sense that they themselves carry the seeds of it. Involving and throbbing with well sustained tension, Animal Kingdom is something special in Australian filmmaking and a knockout debut from David Mich˘d.
Review by Louise Keller:
It starts and ends with a death and a new life. But it's what happens in between that makes for riveting cinema in David Mich˘d crime drama Animal Kingdom. The protagonist is an innocent who is caught between two worlds; the quandary is which one to choose. What is especially interesting is the perspective that Mich˘d takes in telling this story. We are given a bird's eye view of life within a crime family where a life of crime is the norm. We are kept off balance throughout the journey as James Frecheville's 17 year old Josh finds himself sinking deeper and deeper into a precariously charged situation that takes him in way above his head. Smart writing and good execution makes this a tense, gripping and edgy thriller.
When we first meet Frecheville's Josh, his circumstances are dire. Economically, Mich˘d's script tells us everything we need to know and why Josh has not seen his grandmother and three uncles for quite some time. Then we meet the rellies. Jackie Weaver's affectionate grandmother just wants to be 'where the boys are'. But is she a simple woman who loves her family or a ruthless matriarch who puppeteers the action? It's a great role for Weaver who creates a rock-solid persona, contrasted by her diminutive physicality. Ben Mendelsohn is suitably vicious as the tough crime family's alpha male and a wonderful mood of unpredictability is created by the tension in the house where Josh starts his new life.
Everything has its natural order, Guy Pearce's police inspector Leckie tells Josh when we see how the ugly side of life evolves and violence becomes the norm. Pearce is terrific in the role and brings a semblance of normality to the situation. It's a strong cast with stalwarts like Joel Edgerton and Anthony Hayes, although the story belongs to Josh as we follow him through his tense, angst-ridden journey of discovery, filled with discomfort, uncertainty and terror as he faces the dilemma of survival in his jungle.
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ANIMAL KINGDOM (MA)
CAST: Guy Pearce, Ben Mendelsohn, Joel Edgerton, Luke Ford, Jacki Weaver, Sullivan Stapleton, James Frecheville, Daniel Wylie, Anthony Hayes, Susan Prior, Clayton Jacobson, Anna Lise Phillips
PRODUCER: Liz Watts
DIRECTOR: David Mich˘d
SCRIPT: David Mich˘d
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Adam Arkapaw
EDITOR: Luke Doolan
MUSIC: Antony Partos
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Josephine Ford
RUNNING TIME: 112 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Madman
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: June 3, 2010; Re-release December 16, 2010