Animal Kingdom (Review)

(8/13/10; Drama, Crime, Thriller)
Ben Mendelsohn, Joel Edgerton, Guy Pearce, Luke Ford, Jacki Weaver, Sullivan Stapleton, James Frecheville
SCR/DIR: David Michôd
MPAA: R for violence, drug content and pervasive language.
1 hour 52 mins
BOX: $5,775,563

Australian crime drama follows the Codys, a notorious family of criminals as seen through the eyes of recently-orphaned teenager “J” (Frecheville), who goes to live with them when his mother overdoses. Oscar-nominee Weaver plays matriarch Janine (aka Smurf), a diminutive woman who manages to be terrifying when at her sweetest. The police step up their efforts and kill a close friend and associate, escalating the simmering tension between the cops and crooks into a full-blown war.

Given the myriad details about everyday life under surveillance, it would be easy to draw parallels between this film and GoodFellas (1990) except Animal Kingdom takes place in a decidedly suburban setting. Unlike the former, one gets the impression the kid’s soul is still up for grabs, even as he begins down the wrong path. You know going in that it’s not gonna end well, you just don’t know how.

Mendelsohn is unnerving as the clan’s token live wire; Pearce, a cop in the great L.A. Confidential (1997), once again plays a decent lawman. Director Michôd makes interesting sonic choices, sometimes pushing sounds far out into the stereo spectrum to undermine a casual setting; at one point, a dangerous plan is hatched, and as if to underscore the duality of the relaxed living room setting, Air Supply’s “All Out of Love,” is mixed with an ominous score that recasts the ballad as something fierce. (Sony Classics)


Author: Dennis Willis

Dennis Willis is an award-winning producer, TV host, producer, director, editor (he preferred Avid until a torrid affair with Adobe Premiere, and the rest is history), author and film critic (print and radio). Dennis produced and hosted the TV programs Reel Life, FilmTrip, Soundwaves (1983-2008) and produces the annual Soundwaves Xmas program. He is currently the film critic on KGO Radio in San Francisco, and a member of both the San Francisco Film Critics Circle and the Broadcast Film Critics Association.

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