Originally Reviewed – 10/5/2010
The genre of quality crime dramas has had quite the resurgence thus far in 2010. From the wonderful A Prophet to the equally excellent The Secret In Their Eyes to even the newly released Mesrine series, crime dramas have been tearing up art houses and mainstreams cinemas alike. Even The Town, a film I immediately panned when I first saw the trailer, is being hailed as one of the best of the year. So what does the Australian import Animal Kingdom offer to the mix? Outside of a bone chilling account of the dynamics of a generational crime family and how one fallen brick can send the whole wall crashing down, nothing much, really. Sarcasm aside, Animal Kingdom just might trump all those other flicks, providing an experience that just might make my Top 10 list this year.
Starring the understated yet quite good James Frecheville as a 16 year old boy who, after the death of his mother, is taken in by his grandmother and head of the ?family business?, Animal Kingdom is more Godfather than Goodfellas. Where the later was more about the rise and fall of one gangster, Animal Kingdom is a tried and true story of how a life of crime can bring together and tear apart a family. It?s this focus on family dynamics and loyalty that separates this film from the standard crime thriller. Well paced and tightly focused by first time writer / director David Michod, the movie, while deliberate in the way it moves, draws the audience in with believable characters and top notch acting.
While the aforementioned Frecheville is quite good in the lead, the star of the show is Jackie Weaver as the nefariously intriguing Janine Cody, the ?Don Grandmama? of the family. Cold, calculating and unnervingly manipulative, Weaver is downright brilliant in the role. With an uncanny ability to be nurturing one second and diabolically cold blooded the next, Weaver is the intrigue that keeps the film moving through some of the slow points. Good work is also done by Ben Mendelson as the wild card of the uncles and Guy Pearce as the detective bent on taking the family down. While the film does suffer from some fairly bland cinematography, good decisions are made by the cast and crew which glosses over any rough spots in the production.
All told, Animal Kingdom is patiently quiet yet surprisingly bone chilling in the way it tells the story of broken trust and fleeting alliances. Walking out of the theater, I felt disquieted yet sympathetic to the plight of this family, despite the fact it was their choices that put them in this position. To me, that?s the mark of a fine film, one that will thrill, surprise and keep you guessing all the way through. A tough film to define but an easy one to recommend, Animal Kingdom is yet another fine addition to the foreign crime drama genre of films.
Score – 90%