Today: April 19, 2024
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Animal Kingdom

One of the UK film industry’s biggest exports has been the mockney
gangster movie, but there was a time when criminals were Britain’s
biggest export to Australia, so it’s hardly surprising that criminal
elements would turn up in Aussie movies – as stories, and not
necessarily in the industry itself. There have been various iterations
of the life of Ned Kelly, Downunder’s legendary bushranger and
best-known outlaw. But times have changed since Ned and his gang dressed
up like early prototype versions of Iron Man to rob banks and shoot it
out with the law. Or have they? David Michôd’s debut feature Animal
Kingdom is certainly keeping the myth alive, minus the Tin Man suits.

 

Teenager Joshua “J” Cody (newcomer James Frecheville) has to move in with his grandma (veteran Aussie actress Jacki Weaver, best-known internationally for Picnic at Hanging Rock and more recently Three Blind Mice)
after his mum ODs on heroin. J’s uncles are drug dealers and bank
robbers who are being hunted down by the brutal Armed Robbery Squad,
whose method tends towards the “shoot first, ask questions later” school
of policing. When the Squad kills one of the brothers while he is
sitting in his car at a supermarket, his brothers decide to take revenge
by killing two patrol policemen, which escalates the tension. The naïve
J gets drawn into the feud, but Homicide Detective Nathan Leckie (Guy Pearce
getting to use his natural accent for once) wants to protect him from
the situation he has found him in, but also get some information on the
killings. As J’s relationship with his uncles, his newfound girlfriend
and Leckie develops, his loyalties become tested.

 

For a first feature, Michôd has gathered together a cast made up of the cream of Australia’s less familiar acting talent,
although many of them, including Pearce, are Neighbours alumni, or have
appeared in Hollywood movies. When they don’t have to concentrate on
doing American accents there is naturalness to their performances and
they are able to add more menace, or madness, that these roles demand.

 

Although this film is as much about family relationships as it is
about “family business”, it is not some sort of Downunder Sopranos. Of
course, most contemporary gangster films try to add some sort of human
element, rather than portray them as simply cold-hearted sociopaths, but
‘Pope’ Cody (Mendelsohn) is definitely unhinged. As title of
Douglas Coupland’s book points out, all families are psychotic, and he
could have easily been referring to the Cody clan in this film. Weaver
is great as the mother trying to keep her family of reprobates together
by going to her “quiet place” and remaining positive as their little
crime business starts to fall about around them. For its genre, Animal
Kingdom might not be as funny as Scott Ryan’s hit man movie The
Magician, which was a huge hit in 2005, but it does have its moments
verging on gallows humour, although it may need an understanding of
Australian ‘culture’.

 

Australia has produced many great filmmakers, and actors, over the
last 40 years and Animal Kingdom is another great example of a taut
drama that remains true to its Australian identity but has international
appeal.

 

Theatrical Trailer

 



 

 

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