Director: David Michôd
Cast: Guy Pearce, Ben Mendelsohn, Luke Ford
Duration: 112 minutes.
The opening credits of Animal Kingdom, depicting CCTV photographs of real bank robberies, expertly sets the tone for the rest of this film. Haunting, desperate and menacing. Director David Michôd’s stunning and moody feature debut is set in ’80s Melbourne during the decline of what was once a thriving criminal scene of armed robberies. Like Ben Affleck’s film, The Town, Melbourne was Australia’s Charlestown.
Seventeen-year-old Joshua J Cody (James Frecheville), has been living apart from his criminal relatives for many years. When orphaned at the beginning of the film he has no option but to go and live with his grandmother Janine Cody (Jacki Weaver), the matriarch, and her three sons. Her boys can do no wrong, and the police who investigate their robberies and drug deals? How dare they, why they’re just a typical working-class family of bank robbers and drug dealers.
We see their family business through J’s eyes. He’s quiet to the point of mute and emotionally detached and states early on, in voiceover, that “kids are where they are. I found it strange but yet not strange”. He plods along accepting his fate, not wanting it but perhaps having grown up expecting no better.
Life for the Codys has just gotten very stressful, with eldest son Pope (Ben Mendelsohn), constantly looking over his shoulder as a wanted man by the police and his best mate and collaborator Baz (Joel Edgerton), wanting to get out of the trade. The film cruises along with a slightly feral atmosphere, suspended in a state of foreboding and menace. It’s heavy on the suspicion and paranoia, (cue achingly slow but effective tracking shots), and light on actual action scenes. These men are clearly not having a good time. Combine that with a corrupt police force, who rather than wait for evidence to make an arrest would shoot you unarmed and in cold blood to save time. This all makes for unhinged and paranoid crooks, out for revenge and prone to knee-jerk reactions. Crooks, J tells us, always come undone. Always.
There is some hope for J though in the form of a relationship with his girlfriend and the Det. Leckie (Guy Pearce sporting a comely mustache), who tries to intercept the grim future J seems destined for. This film is beautifully shot and powerfully told with particular standout performances from the skulking and dangerous Pope and grandma Janine, (nominated for best supporting Oscar) who, in the end, seems the most insidious of all.