Saturday, January 8, 2011

Aussie Rules in the Crime World

Review: Animal Kingdom
(my spoiler free, twitter style review) 

  In Animal Kingdom, survival of the fittest is the unequivocal rule of thumb—for those on either side of morality—and because of this bleak testimonial concerning humanity, I must surrender a not quite perfect review, and merely just implore you to watch this film.

(Spoiler Alert for Review)

      Any movie that can make a mundane circumstance such as going to the bathroom an exciting and tense experience is a movie that can blissfully hold my attention.  Animal Kingdom is this ilk of a movie and truthfully, it is so much more.  David Michôd's debut feature film is masterfully defined by a champion's focus and a consistently potent tension; a gut-wrenching tension that wraps a hold of you in a manner so gravely powerful that you feel as if you were stricken by a bad case of the flu.  
      There are countless moments in Animal Kingdom that cause your intestinal fortitude to rise to a dizzying level; a level that can most aptly be characterized as a shuttering climax.  Michôd infuses each individual interaction—whether it is a character-to-character engagement or non-character scenario—with an ominous paranoia.  Specifically, this high-pitched, sensationalized take on paranoia firmly seeps through the very core of the film's dark beating heart, and is manifested to deafening heights by the characters of 'Pope' (played exceptionally well by Ben Mendelsohn) and Craig Cody (played solidly by Sullivan Stapleton).  Moreover, there is a startlingly gripping sequence, in which Craig desperately searches for refuge—realizing the specter of imprisonment or death is imminently awaiting him—as the local law enforcement begins closing in on the Cody family's dysfunctional criminal empire.   After learning of his partner's (Barry 'Baz' Brown who is played robustly by Joel Edgerton) brutal death from the corrupt police force, Craig's soiled constitution rapidly descends into full blown paranoia.  He visits his buddy's house in an accelerated attempt to disassociate from his criminal past, but quickly realizes that his buddy is concealing a "bug."  Soon afterwards, the cops besiege the home and Craig is grotesquely shot to death.  
      Michôd's narrative operates on numerous paradigms.  For one, it seems as though the cops—presumptive arbiters of moral justice—instead, are operating by the same immoral principals of anarchical rule that criminals uphold.  Moreover, Michôd paints a gloomy, morose picture that is characterized by motifs of dog eat dog, kill or be killed, mob-rule mentality; it is a poignantly hypocritical canvas but one that is colored by an extremely provocative brush stroke.  
      The most vilified character in Animal Kingdom is undoubtedly the 'Pope:' a psychopathic middle-aged man measured by a diseased moral conscious and an utter disregard for humanity.  As ironic as the name itself, the Pope exudes a demeanor reserved only for the most egregious monsters.  In one scene, he brutally kills the girlfriend of the main protagonist (Joshua 'J' Cody played exceedingly well by James Frecheville) through means of violent asphyxiation; then calmly disposes of her body.  This purposeful display of such a diverse faculty of emotional traits is a horrific revelation; however, this is precisely the point of Michôd's well-paced narrative, as he is attempting to color his antagonist in the most heinous of lights.  
      The protagonist, Joshua 'J' Cody, is meant to captain a disposition that it is a stark contrast to the chilling temperament of Pope. J is a character defined by an unrelenting naiveté, a calming innocence, and most importantly, a quieting resolve that awakens slowly. There is a particularly piercing scene where J's character finally adopts an actively heroic stance. The detective (Leckie played admirably by Guy Pearce) poses an ultimatum to J, urging him to spring to action.  This scene alludes to the derivation of the film's title, as Leckie paints an analogy for J describing how the nature of the animal kingdom applies to J's familial predicament: "you are weak but you don't have to be," Leckie says.  This seed of inspiration will finally manifest itself in J's character when he realizes the sobering news of his girlfriend's tragic death.  
      There is a moment—just one—when this movie really solicits some hard earned empathy.  It occurs after J learns of his girlfriend's violent death. He completely breaks down. For those invested in the characters (and I cared for J), this scene becomes a real emotionally cathartic experience. It was this aspect of the film that was most lacking—the ability to foster empathy. Ultimately, it's what stymies an otherwise near flawless assessment.  
      No one person can escape this dysfunctional family's criminal wrath.  J's maternal grandmother, Janine (played magnificently by Jacki Weaver) is the mastermind and incestuous matriarch of the family.  Her performance especially, as well as the entire cast, is exemplary.  Guy Ritchie provides transparency and proper good guy attributes.  I am not sure if it is an intentional strategy from Michôd, but Ritchie looks a bit like Gary Oldman's character from Batman Begins (Jim Gordon).  Their stories are certainly similar—a good cop working in a world of corruption and chaos desperately trying to spring the one hopeful heroic seed into action.  Despite the absence of an entire film's worth of screen time, Joel Edgerton's performance as Barry Brown is stupendous, He even looks like Ewan McGregor, which bodes well for the promising actor.  Specifically, there is a fleeting moment of goodwill in the film when Brown's character gains redemption.  While at the grocery store, Brown's conscious awakens to the grim toils of his criminal life and he wants to go straight, but shortly after his epiphany, he is brutally murdered by the police from an unprovoked action.  Once this scene unfolded, it became abundantly clear that Michôd was going to unleash a no holds barred, violently induced criminal drama.  
      The score of Animal Kingdom is dynamically refreshing and runs the gamut of signature emotions: it is impacting, moving, emotionally gripping, effectual and ominous.  There is an undeniably sinister element to Animal Kingdom that mildly impacts my full appraisal.  Too many of the focal characters are comprised of a contemptuous and maniacal disposition, which paints a dark and unforgivable anger—acting exclusively in the spirit of bloody revenge, Pope and Darren Cody (played by Luke Ford) ambush and murder two innocent cops.  
      Never classify a movie until the end credits roll.  My review for this film had already been settled in the deep recesses of my mind...until the last sequence of events transpired.  Animal Kingdom's redeeming excellence is defined, not by a crazy twist in which clues were frequently espoused, but by an impeccably designed, take no prisoners tale of moral darkness.  In the animal kingdom, survival of the fittest is the pronounced rule of law; predator's hunt the weak, for example.  In Animal Kingdom, survival of the fittest is the unequivocal rule of thumb—for those on either side of morality—and because of this bleak testimonial concerning humanity, I must surrender a not quite perfect review, and merely just implore you to watch this film.  For the merits of Animal Kingdom are numerous and reflective of a cinematic hijacking that gains esteem from an array of tremendous performances, stunning cinematography, an unforgettably effectual score, and a consistently palpable tension.

8.5 out of 10


  1. I believe this film is one of my top 10 movies of 2010. I enjoyed reading your review and totally agree with your opinion. Many reviewers also have compared Animal Kingdom to The Town, but I know that I like this film more.

  2. Jaccstev,

    Thanks for commenting on my review and I am glad you enjoyed it.

    If I had seen this film earlier in the year, there would have been a high probability of including it in my Top 10. I can see how certain reviewers can draw parallels between Animal Kingdom and The Town; aside from tackling strikingly similar genres, both films invest a good amount of time examining criminal culture (dually through the lens of motivated police personnel and professional criminals). The Town certainly has a more "Hollywood'ized" ending and is gift wrapped with the customary emotional and actionable thrill rides, while Animal Kingdom delves deeper into the corridors of criminal behavior—particularly, as it relates to its intimate consequences on family, love, friendship, and trust.

    The Town was a fun movie. Animal Kingdom was an interesting movie. Both possess very strong merits.

    Thanks for your insight...I'll definitely check out your blog work!

  3. as an off topic I must say that I'm known as someone who's favourite TV and film actors are mostly Australian, Kiwi, British or Canadian by origin :) No American actors has that thespian profoundness and believable performing talent as the ones coming from the above mentioned countries.

  4. Fair observation. Although, my depth of appreciation for actors does not fall into any definable categories, I can certainly understand your point. Most actors—from the class of origins you prefer—tend to provide, on a more consistent basis, effectually believable, transcendent-like performances.