From the GATW Archives: Theatrical Review: ANIMAL KINGDOM

James Wallace saw and wrote a review of ANIMAL KINGDOM at Sundance 2010. You can read that HERE.

Rating: 4.5/5

Writer/Director: David Michôd
Cast: Guy Pearce, Jacki Weaver, Ben Mendelsohn, James Frecheville, Joel Edgerton

I’m a fan of Twitter, so naturally, after seeing a movie, I micro-review my thoughts about what I just saw for my followers to read. It gives them a sort of heads up on what to expect from a film. When I walked out of the screening for ANIMAL KINGDOM, I instantly tweeted, “This is the first film that ripped every emotion out of my body.” Some wondered if that was a negative statement or a positive.  Let me clear that up for you in six words: ANIMAL KINGDOM is just plain badass.

ANIMAL KINGDOM is a film that will stick with you for days, maybe even weeks. There are moments in this film so honest and brutal, you can’t help but realize that things like this really happen in this fucked up world. Writer/director David Michôd really brings out the awe factor in a movie I have classified as “a really kick-ass Aussie version of POINT BREAK.” If you’ve seen NOT QUITE HOLLYWOOD, then you know Australian filmmakers have been known to really raise the bar as far as intensity goes. Michôd does just that. He knows how to sneak up on your emotions. Just when you think things are going to calm - a shit storm flares and your heart begins pounding against your chest again and again. You never know what’s going to happen next and you just want to yell at the screen. This man is very clever.

ANIMAL KINGDOM opens with Joshua “J” Cody (an oddly astounding young James Frecheville) sitting next to his mum, whose eyes are closed. Paramedics walk in and ask him what’s wrong. Heroin overdose. She’s dead and he shows no signs of sadness. It’s clear that his mum was an abuser of  the narcotic. J was born into this. He calls his grandma (Jacki Weaver) and asks if he can live with her. He promptly moves into her house, where her sons (his uncles) come and go as they please. Those uncles are Barry Brown (Joel Edgerton), Darren Cody (Luke Ford), Craig Cody (Sullivan Stapleton), and the last uncle, the man who pushes this whole story into total anarchy, Andrew “Pope” Cody (a very creepy and awesome Ben Mendelsohn).

I compare this film to POINT BREAK, but a really badass Aussie version of it, because in the opening credits we’re shown stills of men in masks robbing various stores. On its most basic level, ANIMAL KINGDOM unfolds as a cops versus robbers story, but this firecracker leaves a trail of innocence lost and an unpleasant view of a broken family. When J arrives at his new home, the uncles are at the kitchen table, sorting out money. By now, the true identity of the men in the masks should be very apparent. The only brother missing is Pope, who is hiding because everyone thinks the cops are hot on his trail. When Pope finally appears, all the good vibrations of easy money goes to bad, to worse, to holy shit this can’t possibly get any worse.

Frecheville's J is the lead in the film, yet he only has a few lines. It's his reactions to the situations he's put in and his saddness that really captures us. J makes it obvious he is a 100% purebred pushover. He's very tall and a bit lanky, but he won't defend himself if his life depended on it. As good as Frecheville is, it's Ben Mendelsohn that completely steals the show. This man portrayed the most subtle creep I’ve seen on film in years. All that creepiness lies in Pope’s eyes. When he’s unhappy, he doesn’t have to say a word, yet you know something bad is about to happen. This man does awful things and has zero remorse for all of them. I hope you’re paying attention, Academy voters.

ANIMAL KINGDOM is a must see film. You have been warned, however, it’s not an easy movie to swallow. In the end, there’s a very valuable lesson ANIMAL KINGDOM teaches and it’s this: it’s a crazy fucking world.