VOD film review: Animal Kingdom
James R | On 11, Dec 2014
Director: David Michod
Cast: Guy Pearce, James Frecheville, Joel Edgerton, Jacki Weaver, Ben Mendelsohn
G’day, Bruce. Whack another corpse on the barbie. She’ll be right. That’s precisely why you don’t set a gangster movie in Australia. And if you do, you better make sure that 1. It’s blooming marvellous and 2. Guy Pearce is in it. No worries, mate: Animal Kingdom manages both. Bonzer.
Little Joshua Cody’s (Frecheville) mum has just copped it. Starting with a brilliantly underplayed shot of Cody watching Wheel of Fortune, director David Michod whisks him away to his Aunt Janine (Weaver) and her mostly criminal relatives. There’s the one who follows orders and the one who thinks he’s a big fish in a little water hole. And then there’s the head of the clan, Pope (Mendelsohn), who’s just out of prison but shows no sign of wanting to turn over a new leaf. They’re a lovely bunch: what they lack in functionality, they more than make up for with brutality.
Things proceed in a measured way, as we witness Cody’s coming of age. He meets a girl, accessorises a bit of murder, and walks around looking confused a lot. And he does it all with the skill of an Aussie Thomas Turgoose.
Then, straight-laced good cop Leckie (Pearce) turns up, all father-figure complex and Gary Oldman moustache. Interviewing Shane several times as they track down his uncle, the scenes between Leckie and Cody are superbly done. With his convincing non-committal responses, newcomer James never feels like he’s from fresh-ville. Half the time, we just listen to Guy Pearce while gazing at weeds in the pavement.
“Some animals are weak, but they survive because they’re being protected by the strong for one reason or another,” the detective waxes lyrically. Then he warns: “You gotta work out where you fit.”
When Shane does find his place, it’s a heck of a kicker. Until then, you can enjoy Oscar-nominated Jacki Weaver, who mixes her ruthless mother hen with occasional flashes of regret. Acting with her eyes and her teeth, she’s Don Corleone by way of Susan Kennedy. Ben Mendelsohn, too, is great as the intense Pope, switching between menace and self-destruction with some wonderfully odd facial expressions. Well directed and with a good ear for natural speech, Animal Kingdom has an epic runtime, but matches it with equally epic acting. Strewth, it’s good.