Animal Kingdom

“Crooks always come undone”, someone warns at the start of David Michôd’s ice-cold, brutally efficient Australian crime thriller Animal Kingdom, a masterful examination of how, precisely, that undoing comes about.

After his mother dies from a self-inflicted heroin overdose, and with nowhere else to turn, teenager Joshua (James Frecheville) is taken in by his estranged grandmother Smurf Cody (Jacki Weaver, Oscar nominated for the role). A bottle-blonde Lady Macbeth with painted eyebrows and a lizard’s smile, Smurf lives with her three adult sons; Pope (Ben Mendelsohn), Craig (Sullivan Stapleton) and Darren (Luke Ford) in an anonymous house in the Melbourne suburbs. From there she controls the family business – selling drugs and robbing banks - sending her boys out to do her bidding and taking a share of the spoils. It isn’t much, but it’s enough to get by, with Smurf maintaining order and boosting morale through a strict regimen of hearty meals, bear-hugs and creepy, full-mouth kisses.

Shy and withdrawn, Jay is soon accompanying his uncles as they scout the city, looking for their next job. Pope, the eldest, is also the most dangerous, having inherited his mother’s cunning and added a few murderous new tricks of his own. Hyperactive Craig is the most unpredictable, liable to fly off into a murderous rage without much provocation. Darren, only a few years older than Jay, has less of an appetite for crime, acting as a reluctant foot-soldier for his older brothers. When the brother’s ignore a caution from a crooked cop to “keep their heads in”, they come to the attention of the city’s Special Branch, led by Detective Leckie (Guy Pearce). Good cop Leckie, an honest family man with a trustworthy moustache, wants to catch the Cody gang and thinks Jay offers a chink in their armour but he also believes the young man can be rescued from the lion’s den, and is worth saving.

As the title suggests, what follows is a snapshot of ruthless predators and their prey. The dialogue and exposition are stripped back to the bare minimum, with Michôd trapping much of the action inside the Cody’s tiny bungalow or Leckie’s close-walled interrogation room. Frecheville plays Jay as if the young man is constantly holding his breath, afraid that the tiniest movement will draw attention to him. His sense of dread permeates throughout the film, with the tension building inexorably in the second half of the story before a shock twist delivers some measure of relief. Writer and director Michôd has clearly studied at Scorsese’s knee (the film might well be re-titled G’Day Fellas) but effortlessly carries his weighty influences, aided by a sharply plotted, momentum-filled story and superb performances from his ensemble cast.

1 comment:

Jorge Villalba Viguer said...

I hate remakes and it doesn´t seem to me I was watching Good Fellas. I have watched Good Fellas several times, but just once Animal Kingdom. In my opinion, similar stories, but quite different movies.