Animal Kingdom pounces on the audience with its brilliant portrayal of a family unit bound by crime and the police detective who wants to take them down. Even weeks after seeing Animal Kingdom certain images are etched in my mind mainly due to the way writer/director David Michid offers such a unique p.o.v. of events.
When one main character gets killed in the first reel the succession of cuts leaves you wondering (I am wondering at this moment.) who drew their weapon first. An eventual trial doesn’t unwind in an actual courtroom but plays out in a museum where we see the defendant being coached in how to fool the jury. The reason we’re in a museum is because the participants are so paranoid of each other that they meet in public to avoid any possible danger that might ensue in private.
Michod made this Australian crime drama for around $5-million. No comparative American studio film could touch the quality on display here for four times that amount. But the amazing thing isn’t Animal Kingdom’s spartan budget, that belies its multiple locations, great production values and acting and even an Air Supply song on the soundtrack, but its ability to focus on the family dynamic as brother or mother or nephew make power moves on each other.
“When I was a kid in Melbourne three or four banks would be robbed every week,” Michod tells Free Press Houston in a phone conversation. “I found myself thinking about how strange armed robbers are in decline,” he mused.
Animal Kingdom finds tension within a clan of bank robbers (three of them blood brothers), their Lady Macbeth-like mother, and a teen nephew who needs a place to stay. Instead of action scenes of these guys robbing banks we get complicated psychological studies of their various characters through dialogue and mundane household behavior. Solid action does break through, but in the form of random criminal acts or previously unseen warrants being served.
Ben Mendelsohn and Joel Edgerton operate with their own code of criminal behavior while Mother Cole (Jacki Weaver) sets new levels of courage under emotional duress. Newcomer James Frecheville (as the nephew) first wants to be a member of this tight knit criminal fraternity, then wants to just survive when he suspects one brother wants him dead. Michod literally looked at hundreds of young actors before Frecheville won the role through his “sheer level of detail in the audition as well as his lumbering man-child quality.”
For the supporting role of a “kind of homicide detective who wear clothes and uses language as a disguise,” Michod choose Guy Pearce, who gives a quiet yet mannered performance.
Before all is said and done, Animal Kingdom with its profoundly chilling effect will be one of the most talked about films of the year. Animal Kingdom opens exclusively this weekend at the Angelika Film Center.