Sunday, August 07, 2011

FILM REVIEW - Animal Kingdom

Joe's 17, and his mum has just died from an overdose. He rings his Gran to ask for her help. This is after all what Gran does, she always sorts out other peoples messes. His Mother was estranged from her family, partly to protect her son from their influence, with, as it turns out, good reason. For when Joe moves into the family home, he sees first hand the casual criminality of his uncles, a criminality he tries to keep his distance from. As events unfold, he finds he cannot avoid becoming implicated. The police are after all his Uncles, but most notably the eldest, Pope. Eventually this results in the cold- blooded murder of one of them by the police. His family take revenge with the indiscriminate murder of two policemen. Joe is held for questioning. Subsequently he finds out his girlfriend has been killed by Pope, his Uncle. Whose side will Joe eventually turn out to be on?

Animal Kingdom, is a gripping, intelligent film about the emotional bonds in this disarmingly ordinary criminal family. Joe remarks in the opening few minutes of the movie, that every criminal knows his time at liberty will run out some day, that the consequences of their actions eventually will catch up with them. This mood of fearful expectancy pervades the whole movie, when will these guys get there comeuppance?

There are three stand out performances. At the centre is James Frecheville, as Joe. who is sometimes blank and numb, at other times clearly scared and horrified. His performance is subtly understated, as this teenager on the cusp of being a grown man, thrown into the maelstrom of his treacherous family. The second is Ben Mendelson as Pope, the eldest and most vicious Uncle. When Gran says to him, in an passing remark over lunch -'don't you think you should start taking your medication again?' you can see in his face that he's more than a little out of control. All the really tense menacing moments in the movie are when Pope is around. Jackie Weaver as Gran, is a superlative performance, as the families Matriarch. She is the one who quietly holds everything together with the sentimentality of her kisses, gently scolds the men for having gone too far in taking revenge for their friends murder, and always, always tries to put things right. Outwardly warm and un-involved, but really a cold-hearted and dispassionate pragmatist who'd murder her own Grandson, if it proved necessary. It's a scarily impressive performance, for which she has deservedly won numerous film awards.

The film script rarely puts a foot wrong, portraying these people as people with all their personal idiosyncrasies, however dangerous their impulses might be. What violence there is, though occasionally graphic, is sparingly used. When intensity and apprehension is called for, its built through the deft use of long lingering shots and musical inference. There is something magnificently mythic about the world painted in Animal Kingdom, where the small details of the story echo much larger human and universal themes of love, loss and loyalty. This turns the film into something that is strongly reminiscent of a modern day Greek Tragedy.

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