Saturday, February 16, 2013

"Animal Kingdom" (2010) - Movie Review

“Animal Kingdom” moves like a snake lurking by a corner crawling towards the viewer and bites viciously in the end. It poses as gangster film but it is a study of dynamics in a family. A family which has acknowledged and accepted that their livelihood as crime. This like few of the Australian films I have seen relies on the mood rather than movement. It focuses on the inert nature of certain characters and draws a bombastic yet mellowed down caricature on others. “Animal Kingdom” would leave you wondering and pondering on this drama and the disturbing love that is painted in the end.

Joshua “J” Cody (James Frecheville) is watching a game show as his mother is next to him overdosed on heroin. That results him left alone and to reach out to his grandmother her mother kept away from. He is taken into the family by his grandmother Janine “Smurf” Cody (Jacki Weaver). J introduces his uncles to the viewers and their relation to him and to one another. The most trusting and reliable is Barry “Baz” Brown (Joel Edgerton). Seeing him operate and exchange short conversations with J explains why J is comfortable with him. Then there is the paranoid Craig (Sullivan Stapleton) mostly due to using his own product which is cocaine. The youngest of them is Darren (Luke Ford) who is couple of years elder to the sixteen to seventeen year old J. They are either laying low or opted another crime profession other than armed robbery. The cops are onto them to avenge for their loss but the main man they are looking to kill is the eldest of them all, Pope (Ben Mendelsohn). His uncles are under the spell of Smurf. We will ultimately come to know about Smurf who is the mother that cannot and will not let go her kids. The sons though want to be with her as the interdependency of this emotional bond has more than the usual connection. She has accepted them for exactly who they are but you will be surprised on it too when you understand the origins.

The story unfolds as through J we see the play the cops begin to ploy on these men. The cops want blood as these men have taken the armed robbery into a bloody battle with no regrets. They need Pope and we are not told why but once we meet him, the why becomes our expression of “no wonder”. Pope cannot be discarded purely as psychopathic. His mannerism give you the creeps. He is not alone cunning but project a weird nature of evil. He consistently asks Darren and J to talk with him about anything that is bothering them. There is no true extension of his service for them to confide in him rather we do not really know what he achieves even if they did take his offer. The way he would look at you and your friends or your girl friend would be something that would haunt in your sleep and bug you to death on when this man is going to act upon his impulse. We see how he looks and carries J’s girl friend Nicky (Laura Wheelwright) and that is all there to it on explaining him.

Soon the cops are tired of waiting in front of Baz’s house so that Pope would surface for them to hunt. They choose another route which triggers the set of events causing death in all form to the family. Pope begins to wage war on the cops which ends up in a bloody one unfurling in peculiar fashion. In between these events is J as a bystander or unsure of his role in this family. His closest semblance of normal family is Nicky’s but he ignores that and seems to be calmly attracted to that of Smurf’s. Does he want to be like them in terms of authority and power or does he simply thinks this is the best form of emotional payment he is going to get? He does not react or emote and we are left to absorb his actions.

There is Guy Pearce as Detective Nathan Leckie, a reasonable one who as much as knows that J is the link he needs to break to get Pope and his brothers, is also in sympathy towards this kid who has his life ahead. He appears to have genuine concern more so than his partner. J survives his interrogation but ultimately has nowhere to go when Pope does the unthinkable. When J has the lock to the brothers, that is where the film takes the twisted and effective turn through Smurf. As her sons are in trouble, she begins to act in a fashion that is industrious, methodical and downright evil. The scenes of her with their lawyer and with the narcotics detective Craig worked with begins to draw the unseen viciousness that we are not really surprised to see but are alarmed at the extent she is willing to take without hesitation. Jacki Weaver provides the kind of chills that is simply unexplainable. She is the woman who does not accept the aging process that gets to her appearance and paints her face with make up that gives a feeling of a deadly lioness. She will not let her sons suffer through this and the move she makes defines the film.

As the film end in a fashion which is bloody, it also finishes off to wonder what is going to happen of J and the rest of the family. In a way there is a personal justice but it only gives birth to another circle of wasted youth. David Michold appears to find a rhythm in this story which snails its pace but the initial hour is there to give the audience the raw nature of this family’s interaction and how they see and employ J. When the finality happens, we are not stung because it is sudden rather it is the strength of the venom that seeps its devilish form through our nerves and leaves us with the bitter taste of slow death. “Animal Kingdom” is the film whose thrill and drama is not in the action but in the way it serves it as a cold deadly dish.

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