There’s a characteristic to Australian cinema which can only be described as oppressive. Chopper, Wolf Creek, The Square and Snowtown all possessed this trait, as does Animal Kingdom. It is apparent from its opening scene; a teenage boy is sat watching ‘Deal or no Deal’ with his mother slumped beside him – on the arrival of the paramedics we discover that she’s dead, having overdosed on heroin. Whilst shocking, what follows is a tense drama, set in Melbourne’s underworld.
Winner of the World Cinema Jury Prize at the Sundance Film Festival, Animal Kingdom was David Michôd’s debut feature, in which a family of armed robbers are hunted by renegade detectives who want them dead. Following the death of his mother, the aforementioned Codys’ welcome their estranged nephew, J, into the fold.
“After my mum died, this is just the world I got thrown into”.
When he is coerced into the family business, he is at the centre of a war between the family and the police. Animal Kingdom is his story, as he navigates his survival amongst the criminal family and the detective who thinks he can save him.
“they were all scared, even if they didn’t show it, even if they didn’t know it exactly, even if they were having to do what crooks do all the time which is, block out the thing they must know, they must know it, which is why crooks always come undone, always, one way or another.”
The dilemmas posed are held in balance until the final sequences. There’s an unnerving quality to the film, with no obvious ‘good guy’ to gravitate towards. The script itself was inspired by the Pettingill family, who in the late 80s were acquitted of murder of two Victoria police officers.
The Oscar nominated matriarch Jacki Weaver is truly terrifying in a film packed with stellar performances: Guy Pearce gives a star turn as Leckie as does Sullivan Stapleton as Craig and Ben Meddelsohn as Pope.
This atmospheric psychological thriller is highly recommended – if my word isn’t enough Quentin Tarantino listed it as his third favourite film of 2010, behind Toy Story 3 and The Social Network.
Check out the trailer below.