Every now and then a director comes along with a debut feature film that captures a character’s world, a notable period in time
now and then a director comes along with a debut feature film that captures a
character’s world, a notable period in time – fiction or un-fiction – and tells
their story so compellingly and adroitly; it leaves the audience wide-eyed and
begging for more. This is exactly what David
Michôd’s first feature length film,
Animal Kingdom achieves.
in 1980’s Melbourne and loosely based on real events of the time, Animal
Kingdom opens with the sedate Joshua ‘J’ Cody (James Frecheville) as he waits patiently for the
paramedics to arrive and take away his mother who has died from a heroin
overdose. All alone he calls his estranged grandmother Janine ‘Smurf’ Cody
(remarkably played by Jacki Weaver).
She is the warm yet unscrupulous matriarch of the Cody crime family who will
stop at nothing to indulge and mother her bank robbing, coke sniffing, heroin shooting
son’s Pope (Ben Mendelsohn), Baz
(Luke Ford) and their friend Craig (Sullivan Stapleton).
J is thrust into the brutal landscape of this criminal blooded family who are
being literally hunted by the police – a force as untrustworthy and menacing as
the Cody family themselves. J is
our hesitant, unknowing narrator; but despite his naivety even he concedes “Even
if they didn’t know it. They must know it, which is that crooks always come
undone, always. One way or another.”
one of their own is taken out by police, a downward spiral of paranoia, revenge
and avoiding jail develops and J has to learn on his feet as he and his lower
middle class girlfriend become caught up in the ensuing madness.
both hope and the future in the film. In a way Animal Kingdom can be seen as a
coming of age movie as well as a crime film; J is learning the mantra of a
criminal family: ‘‘We do what we have to do, we do what we must. It doesn’t mean we want to do it?” The
question is will he embrace or reject this ethos? And can he navigate his way
out of the firing line? He’ll reject it if good cop Detective Senior Sgt Nathan Leckie (excellently
played by Guy Pearce) can penetrate through J’s
guarded exterior and convince him he’s the weaker animal being protected by
stronger ones about to be taken out themselves. First time actor Frecheville is heartbreakingly good as J,
and him and Michôd pull at our paternal instincts,
especially in a gut wrenching scene where J realises something truly terrible
has happened, that he feels partly responsible for, and all he can do is run.
as well as being an undeniably well written story the best thing about Animal
Kingdom is Michôd’s ability to create a disturbing
sense of foreboding from beginning to end, made more harrowing by the
relentlessly haunting soundtrack. As could easily happen, never once does
Animal Kingdom feel un-authentic, exaggerated or dishonest. Michôd also seamlessly avoids glamorising crime,
affording criminals no sympathetic indulgencies; neither does he offer any
solutions or alternatives to the Cody family’s innate dependency on crime.
Animal Kingdom Michôd combines first class acting, a
stellar script, perfect tone and precision directing – it is certainly one not
to be missed. We can’t wait to see what Michôd has to offer next.