Sunday, March 20, 2011

Review: Aussie "Animal Kingdom" is Awesome

TRASH IN MY EYE No. 24 (of 2011) by Leroy Douresseaux

Animal Kingdom (2010)
Running time: 113 minutes (1 hour, 53 minutes)
MPAA – R for violence, drug content and pervasive language
EDITOR: Luke Doolan
COMPOSER: Antony Partos
Academy Award nominee


Starring: James Frecheville, Jacki Weaver, Ben Mendelsohn, Joel Edgerton, Guy Pearce, Luke Ford, Sullivan Stapleton, and Laura Wheelwright

Often, I am reluctant to just come right out and say, “Go see this movie!” When it comes to the Australian crime drama, Animal Kingdom, the debut film from writer/director David Michôd, I cannot hesitate to say, “See this movie!” and “It’s on DVD for your home viewing comfort.”

Animal Kingdom follows Joshua Daniel “J” Cody (James Frecheville). After his mother, Julia Cody, dies of a heroine overdose, J goes to live with his maternal grandmother, Janine “Smurf” Cody (Jacki Weaver), the matriarch of a Melbourne-based crime family. Eldest son, Andrew “Pope” Cody (Ben Mendelsohn) and family friend, Barry “Baz” Brown (Joel Edgerton) are armed robbers. Craig Cody (Sullivan Stapleton) is a mid-level drug dealer, and barely legal Darren Cody (Luke Ford) is an up and coming apprentice to the crime family.

The family is under surveillance by Melbourne’s notorious Armed Robbery Squad. After the Squad strikes first, the Cody brothers strike back. Suddenly, J is the prize in a cat and mouse game between Janine and her sons and the police, personified by a senior detective named Nathan Leckie (Guy Pearce). Now, J has to make a decision that will determine where he belongs – with his relatives or somewhere else.

With all the critical acclaim that Animal Kingdom has received, it would be redundant to go over the film’s highlights in detail. Animal Kingdom is very well acted, and Jacki Weaver certainly deserved the Oscar nomination she received for best supporting actress. Ben Mendelsohn also deserved an Oscar nomination (which he didn’t get) for his stunning turn as Pope, one of the year’s best performances. Luke Ford is quite good in a quiet way as the reluctant and hapless Darren. James Frecheville is a bit stiff as J, but has some moments in the film where he shines.

I must reserve time to heap praise on writer/director David Michôd. I don’t know him well enough to call him a liar, but this cannot be his debut film. Really? This is really good, and it’s his first?

Anyway, not only is Animal Kingdom well written and exceptionally well directed, it is also different from the standard crime family flick. Michôd composes this film with J as the center, but after introducing J, Michôd brings him to the Cody household and then, moves him into the background. There, J becomes the eyes and ears through which Michôd both introduces to and immerses us in the world of the Cody crime family. By the time J returns to the forefront (when he is asked to participate in the act that launches this film’s central conflict), the narrative is ready to focus on him again.

The way Michôd uses J and directs the actor playing him, James Frecheville, gives an odd, otherworldly feel to this film, which is good. Instead of being bloody and gritty, Animal Kingdom is a matter of fact examination of the police and the thieves, presenting both sides as predators always on the lookout for prey they can uses to their advantage. This different way of presenting a crime film, the exceptional character writing, riveting plot, and excellent performances make Animal Kingdom one of 2010’s best movies.

9 of 10

2011 Academy Awards: 1 nomination: “Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role” (Jacki Weaver)

2011 Golden Globes: 1 nomination: “Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role in a Motion Picture” (Jacki Weaver)

Saturday, March 19, 2011


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