Animal Kingdom

By James Burbidge

Animal KingdomCountry: Australia
Running time:
Directed by:
David Michod
James Frecheville, Guy Pearce, Ben Mendehlson 


What is it about criminal families that is so fascinating? From the Corleones to the DiMeo’s and the Rooneys to the Krays; that combination of blood, violence, trust and betrayal always makes for a riveting watch. Well, add the Australian Cody family to that list.

J’s mother had tried to keep her teenage son away from his grandmother and uncles, but when she dies he has no choice but to move in with them. The eldest brother, Pope is in hiding, desperately wanted by the Armed Robbery Squad. Pope and his partner, Baz Brown, are training up the youngest brother, Darren, and take J under their wing too. Completing the family are the middle brother, Craig, a hyperactive drug dealer, and their mother, Janine, an odd combination of clingy, bossy, hard-headed and loving, who just desperately wants to be with her sons.

Young, detached J enters this world and simply adapts to it, as it seems he must. There are no outrageous training scenes, or heavy action sequences showing this, he simply moves into a house where guns, drugs and the police car outside are merely humdrum. As the Armed Robberies Squad up the pressure on the family though, life becomes anything but mundane. Pope and Janine become concerned about J’s ability to stay loyal under pressure, especially when a determined detective (Guy Pearce) takes a special interest in him. 

Animal Kingdom

This is a brooding piece of filmmaking, unhurried and utterly confident. Michod has written a broiling stew of characters, and he directs them with a patient eye for the natural and commonplace. Tension rises throughout the film, broken by shocking moments of violence that hit you out of the blue. The cast are all spot on: James Frecheville playing J as an unknowable wall of a teenager, the bubbles of his thoughts and opinions only just rippling the surface. Guy Pearce’s detective is, as you would expect, on the money, incorruptible, a little naïve, and just trying to do the best he can. The standout performance though comes from Ben Mendehlson whose troubled Pope is a masterpiece of nervy, pragmatic violence.

Sadly the film loses its way in the third act, getting bogged down in court cases, lawyers and overly complicated family politics. Despite this annoyance however, Animal Kingdom is an admirable addition to the family crime genre, and a refreshing piece of Australian filmmaking. See it.

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About The Author

James Burbidge James performs a plethora of tasks for Raindance; writing articles, editing the newsletter, managing Twitter, helping on courses, organising volunteers and running the script services are but a few of the ones he is allowed to tell you about.
When he isn’t daydreaming about daylight he watches films (well, duh!) reads a bit, writes a bit and kicks arse at ultimate Frisbee.




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