Animal Kingdom ****

Film Review Animal Kingdom

How did this movie ever fly under the radar?  I had never even heard of it until it started to get mentioned during awards season.  After seeing it I can understand why people are pushing hard for it to get noticed.  It is a powerful film.  One of the most raw and intense movies I have seen about crime families.

The story is loosely based on the real life Pettingill family and the Walsh Street police shootings in Melbourne Australia. 

When his mother dies of a heroin overdose, seventeen-year-old Josh (James Frecheville) is sent to live with his grandmother (Jacki Weaver), and his four criminal uncles; Baz (Joel Edgerton), Craig (Sullivan Stapleton), Darren (Luke Ford), and Pope (Ben Mendelsohn). When Baz is executed by a group of dirty cops, the other brothers quickly fall under the sway of the psychotic Pope. Meanwhile, Josh is befriended by a straight-arrow detective (Guy Pearce), who hopes he’ll turn against his uncles, and help him put the brothers behind bars.

“Animal Kingdom” was written and directed by first timer David Michod.  On the basis of this movie, he shows some real chops when it comes to intense drama and getting amazing performances out of his actors.  Whether he is working with newcomer or seasoned veterans. 

This movie reminded me a little of the recent “Red Riding” trilogy, which was also a look at crime and corruption involving gangsters and the police department.  This one is more intimate with it’s characters.  We get to see the inner workings of a crime family that has more in common with real people then the characters we see in film.

The performances are all so good it is hard to do them justice with words.  Newcomer James Frecheville in particular is so good at internalizing his performance.  On the one hand you think he is emotionless and passive, but his final moments in the film reveal all and will leave you speechless.

Veterans like Guy Pearce and Jacki Weaver both find the right notes in two roles that could not be more different.  Pearce is calm and intelligent as a senior police detective and Weaver is vindictive and vile as the patriarch of the family.

Lots of scenes whether part of the story or not have such a raw impact. Early on in the film there is a throwaway scene where road rage almost comes to violence.  Young Josh is handed a gun and told to show a few hooligans ‘who the king is’.  When the violence does come it is sudden and shocking but not over the top like other crime sagas.

“Animal Kingdom” is a movie that you might have to do a little searching to find.  I assure you that you will not be disappointed.  It is unforgettable.

 

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