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kilowog [Celluloid 06.24.10] Australia movie review thriller crime

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Year: 2010
Directors: David Michod
Writers: David Michod
IMDB: link
Trailer: link
Review by: kilowog
Rating: 7 out of 10

It is with some fanfare that David Michod releases his feature directorial debut, the dark thriller, ANIMAL KINGDOM, into the wild. As part of Blue Tongue Films, the Aussie filmmaker has been building buzz as a writer, scripting the enormously well-received short, SPIDER and following it up shortly after with two shorts of his own including NETHERLAND DWARF; both enormously simple tales, one concerning a poorly placed plastic spider and the other, a boy and his rabbit. Continuing with his affinity for animals, Michod introduces us to the Cody family, a grouping of individuals so maligned that the Manson family seems well-adjusted in comparison.


Headed by a Ma Barker-esque, Smurf, who is the mother to four grown Cody brothers, we quickly see where these spiritually bereft men draw their inspiration. However as much as our tale concerns these four men and their sadistically well-intentioned mother, our story is about her grandson and their seventeen year-old nephew, Joshua ‘J’ Cody.

Following the accidental overdose of his mother, the underage J is forced to live with his grandmother. For years, J’s mom had kept him away from her family because she was “scared.” Her fears were well founded. When we meet the rest of the Cody clan, the family is in flux as they are stuck under constant police surveillance in the hopes of catching Pope, the oldest brother and the de facto head of household, who has been on the run. It’s during J’s first days at the home that the prodigal son, Pope (Ben Mendelsohn) returns from his secreted exile. Reunited, the Codys begin to ponder how they can they become productive members of society only to realize in time that once a line has been crossed there is no turning back.

From its haunting title sequence which couples CCTV stills from a robbery alongside a striking painting featuring a savage pride of lions, you know that ANIMAL KINGDOM is a piece of art. Revealing the painting in short, fractioned and deliberate shots Michod balances it out with the beginning of composer, Antony Partos, devastating score that evokes the creeping dread of a Michael Mann film

There exist moments of pure stylistic genius throughout the film, one in particular which has brother Craig (played by Sullivan Stapleton) switching roles and running like a gazelle through the brush, and you know that Michod watched hours and hours of nature films to get that sequence just right. Michod never hurries his story, running just under two hours, he is certain to understand the use of slow-motion and how it can speak volumes with its slow moving silence.

Overall, the film borders on exquisite. Michod’s writing pops from the screen and when coupled with a measured sense of directing he manages to give credence to a set of characters so obtuse that you’d think twice before accepting them as people that actually exist in nature. However, after being fed a spoonful of sugar by the show stopping performances of Ben Medndelshon (Pope) and Jacki Weaver (Smurf), any questions of validity slip away and that, perhaps, is the scariest fact of all.

Where the film fails, however, and yes, despite this glowing review it does fail, is that J’s continued silence and passiveness throughout the film lead us to believe that the mute kid from THE BLINDSIDE has more personality than he does. There’s no doubt that J’s childhood has been one of disappointment and pain, but as our eyes and ears, as our point of view, this lion walks around as if he’s been shot with a tranquilizer and all we as an audience want to do is see him run wild if just once. It’s this fact coupled with the realization that Guy Pearce, here playing ‘Detective Leckie’ a man intent on saving J while destroying the Codys. There is no proactive effort on Leckie part to get the job done, leaving most of the dirty work to someone else or to J himself. You almost wish that Pearce’s hard charging Ed Exley from LA CONFIDENTIAL was onscreen instead. To that end, you also wonder why Michod didn’t cast Pearce, the only real name in the cast, at least internationally, as one of the brothers in an attempt to gain a better box office draw.

ANIMAL KINGDOM is incredibly satisfying, but my assertion remains that if you’re going to see one Blue Tongue film this year, it should be Nash Edgerton’s THE SQUARE, a film so on par with BLOOD SIMPLE and the early Coen Brothers that one cannot wait to see what Nash will do next. Whereas with Michod, well . . . I’m sure we’ll get around to him again.

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chopper (4 years ago) Reply

The movie is loosely based on this family
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pettingill_family

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Bill (4 years ago) Reply

Way overrated - a real snoozefest. You have been warned.

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Anonymous (3 years ago) Reply

Each to their own when it comes to opinions. Though I think that you would have had to have been expecting a Michael Bay film or something.

I watched this a few weeks ago and it is up there as one of my favourite films of 2010. Very highly recommended for people that want inteligent cinema


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