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Animal Kingdom (2010) ***

September 1, 2010

 

Written by: David Michôd

Produced by: Liz Watts

Directed by: David Michôd

Rated R for violence, drug content and pervasive language

112 mins

U.S. Release Date: August 13, 2010 (limited)


 

After a relatively dormant period for Australian films, there has been a recent renaissance, and much of that resurgence is thanks to the Aussie filmmaking crew known as Blue-Tongue Films.  The group is made up of many people, some direct, most act, some do cinematography, some do stunt work… you get the point.  Blue-Tongue Films is responsible for such recently popular films as The Square, Hesher, and now…Animal Kingdom.  Most feature a slow-going plot line that builds the suspense over time, and Animal Kingdom is no different.  Characters often sit in silent together amidst the silence of an absent score.  Can this new wave of Australian independent films catch on with American movie-going audiences, or are they getting lost in translation?

A 17-year-old boy named J (James Frecheville), short for Josh, has had an extremely tough home life.  In the opening frames of the film, we see J’s mother pass away on the couch due to a heroin overdose while he sits and watches “Let’s Make a Deal”.  The young man’s reaction to his mother’s death is strikingly flat, as he continues to watch TV for a few minutes, and then call his extended family to let them know.  As a new orphan, J goes to live with his grandmother Janine, and his three uncles.

Very soon after moving into the new home, it’s clear that there is something pretty shady about his relatives: they’re a team of bank robbers who are living their lives in the crosshairs of the police.  When J figures this out, he inevitably becomes involved, which could endanger everyone he knows and loves.

Typical of a David Michôd film, Animal Kingdom is very slow moving, but in an effective way.  Michôd’s filmmaking style is one that can grab a slice of reality and give it a cinematic visual style.  His many uses of silence in his films adds to that realism and builds a tremendous awkwardness and suspense in an augmented documentary-esque style.  To get a great example of this style, watch the director’s short film I Love Sara Jane.

The ensemble acting in this film are remarkable, as the first-time actor James Frecheville plays J, who comes across as nearly autistic apparently due to the massive amount of mental trauma he’s had to endure, and he plays it wonderfully.  Frecheville’s stoicism juxtaposed with his spikes of high emotion really adds to the intensity of the film’s more dramatic moments.  Though J seems void of all emotion, there’s something about him that begs for you to have faith in him, and somehow believe that he will survive this horrible living situation, just as he’s survived his awful past.

Jacki Weaver’s performance as the grandmother, Janine, is absolutely mesmerizing.  I can’t recall another film where I have seen such a vile character played with such slyness.  janine seems like just a kind but awkward lady at first, but when you really drill down you realize that all of her actions are premeditated and predicated upon her maintaining as much control as possible over her family and surroundings.  I truly hope that Weaver gets roles in some American films coming up in the near future so more people can see her acting.

When you originally saw the film title on this review, you probably thought this was something that had to do with a Disney special or the Discovery Channel.  This is obviously not the case.  There are plenty of allusions made to explain the title, but the title really only makes this film meatier and gives you more to dig into.  Australia, in the case of Animal Kingdom, is the jungle, and like the real-life jungle, there are predators, there are prey, and there are those that exist only as a playground for the aforementioned predators and prey.

Throughout this film, there are power struggles that beg the question: Who is the predator, here?  Who is the prey?  J vs. Jacki, J’s family vs. the police, J vs. his uncles, and J vs. the police.  These questions give plenty to think about after the credits have rolled, however Animal Kingdom gives plenty of rewards upon second viewing.

If you appreciate foreign films, you enjoy The Square, or you like enjoying new experiences through film, definitely check out Animal Kingdom.  The film features some fantastic acting performances, subtle but impacting filmmaking, and high replay value…so why not take a look?

7 Comments leave one →
  1. windi permalink
    September 2, 2010 5:51 am

    sounds good to me! I’ll keep my eye open for this one!

  2. mATtHEw gRAmItH permalink
    January 23, 2011 2:25 am

    Wow. Just finished watching it. I can’t say that I loved the film. It was a bit stressful. But I have the utmost respect for it. If that film was set in America and had a couple really big movie stars in it, it would win the Academy award for best film. Am amazing piece of work in every respect.

    • January 23, 2011 8:34 am

      It’s definitely not a film that you’ll want to start up again right after, that’s for sure. Very intense. How amazing was Jacki Weaver?? That’s the only hole in your American remake idea… I can’t figure out who would replace her!

  3. mATtHEw gRAmItH permalink
    January 23, 2011 10:54 am

    Ben Mendelsohn’s performance was great, too! The way his character unfolded was as much in the acting as the writing. I know they’re long shots, but I think there’s a chance that one or both of them could get an Oscar nom.

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