Animal Kingdom

Unpleasant tales, unpleasantly told.

Released in 2010, certified UK-15. Reviewed on 13 Aug 2011 by Scott Morris
Animal Kingdom image

Seventeen's a tough age to go through, especially when your mother has just overdosed on the ol' heroin. Said seventeener, Joshua 'J' Cody (James Frecheville) finds himself taken in by his grandmother Janine (Jacki Weaver), matriarch of a Melbourne crime family. Living with three criminal uncles, or criminuncles as I choose to portmanteau them, the central peg of Animal Kingdom appears to be whether or not J is going to join the family business while dodging the cops out after the family, and the rampant psychosis of his elder ciminuncle Andrew 'Pope' Cody (Ben Mendelsohn).

Things have a way of gathering momentum in this kind of tale, like a big drug fuelled crime snowball plummetting down society's hill, crashing into the fence of laboured, inappropriate similes. While initially just looking like J would play an apprentice role, of sorts, to his drug dealing criminuncle Craig (Sullivan Stapleton), there's the temptation to go deepeer after the local 5-0 have enough of the crime family and their friends, going all Judge Dredd on Pope's best buddy Baz Brown (Joel Edgerton), shooting him until he is killed to bits.

No self-respecting nutter is going to take this lying down, with the family revenge-killing a couple of patrol cops. Lo, the cycle of retributuion begins, with Detective Nathan Leckie (Guy Pearce), seemingly the only uncorrupted cop in town, trying to get J to testify against his family for his own protection. This, of course, now makes J a target too.

Now, this all sounds substantially more exciting than Animal Kingdom actually is, to the extent that having looked around at the almost universal critical acclaim this has received I have to wonder if I've watched an entirely different film.

You see, the Animal Kingdom I saw had a bunch of universally unlikable characters performing a variety of universally unlikable acts resulting in one of the most unlikable films I've seen this year. It can't even claim the fall back position of 'based on a true story' to give it some meaning, as it isn't. There's no exploration of these character's motivations or psyche, so the take away message of the film appears to be that crime and corrupt cops are Bad Things. Thank you, Captain Obvious.

There's an inherent flaw in the movie in terms of characterisation. This film has had some very good notices for it's acting performances, across the board. I fundamentally disagree with that, but even if I didn't, across the board the characters themselves are, not to gild the lilly, total arseholes. Now, if someone really nailed the performance and created a completely believable, Platonic-ideal total arsehole, they would still be a total arsehole. Which is okay in a film with a mix of characters, but here there's total arseholes as far as my brown eye can see, so even in the best possible case, this would be film revolving around a shower of reprehensible arseholes.

As it happens I'm far from convinced by the performances, making this a film full of half-arsed holes. Ahahah. Ahaha. Ha. Ahem.

The pacing is deliberate to the point of glacial, although if what you really want is interminably drawn out, slo-mo shots of J in such dynamic poses as 'sitting' and 'staring blankly' while the camera slowly pans around him, boy, are you ever in luck. Also, you're a very strange person. You know that, right?

This film did absolutely nothing for me, and I was roundly bored from about half an hour into the piece until the very welcome time when it ended, at a subjective running time of fourteen decades. Time doesn't fly when you aren't having fun. I'm completely flummoxed as to what I'm supposed to like in this film. The characters are unpleasant, their actions and situations aren't at all interesting and there's no real insight on display regarding anything the film shows. There's no commentary on society, the justice system, or even on the characters featured. There's just the simple story of a kid I'm given no reason to care for struggling with a family I don't care about. Thank you, drive through.

David Michod
Cast list:
James Frecheville (Joshua 'J' Cody)
Jacki Weaver (Janine 'Smurf' Cody)
Joel Edgerton (Barry 'Baz' Brown)
Luke Ford (Darren Cody)
Sullivan Stapleton (Craig Cody)
Mirrah Foulkes (Catherine Brown)