Animal Kingdom
dir-scr David Michôd
prd Liz Watts
with James Frecheville, Ben Mendelsohn, Joel Edgerton, Guy Pearce, Jacki Weaver, Luke Ford, Sullivan Stapleton, Dan Wyllie, Anthony Hayes, Laura Wheelwright, Justin Rosniak, Mirrah Foulkes
release Aus 3.Jun.10, US 13.Aug.10,
UK 25.Feb.11
10/Australia 1h53
Animal Kingdom
Granny knows best: Frecheville and Weaver

mendelsohn edgerton pearce
R E V I E W    B Y    R I C H    C L I N E
Animal Kingdom Gritty, harsh and extremely well-acted, this Australian crime drama really gets into the skin of its central characters. So even if the plot meanders rather badly in the final act, it holds our interest and sympathy.

When his mother dies of a heroin overdose, 17-year-old Josh (Frecheville) goes to live with his grandmother Janine (Weaver), whom he hardly knows. He also meets his four uncles (Mendelsohn, Edgerton, Ford and Stapleton), a criminal gang that's being hunted by a tenacious detective (Pearce). Even though he's only watching from the sidelines as his uncles try to change their way of making a living, Josh gets completely entangled in their shady dealings. And as the police start watching him as well, he starts to realise that he'll sink if he doesn't learn to swim.

Told mainly from Josh's point of view, the film efficiently forces us to experience his thoughts and emotions. And in his debut role, Frecheville delivers a terrifically engaging performance that captures this teen's detached way of moving through life. Even though most scenes require him to be silent and stony-faced, we know exactly how he feels. And the seasoned cast that surrounds him are just as riveting, mainly because most of them are playing effectively against type.

Meanwhile, filmmaker Michod keeps things edgy and tough, with a series of intense standoffs, often within the family, that send chills up the spine. The dialog is often funny and offhanded, but the attitudes are razor sharp. And as things progress, we begin to realise that Janine isn't just a mum who wants to be around her boys; she could be the one who's actually pulling the strings. And Weaver is unforgettable as this steely matriarch.

Since we're seeing most of this through Josh's eyes, it's pretty unnerving. Especially during acts of horrific violence that are caused by a creeping sense of paranoia. This nastiness is like a slap in the face, and perhaps that's the point. Because as the story shifts through a few too many plot turns and confrontations, we wonder what the filmmaker is trying to tell us about criminal life in the suburbs. Or maybe, as the title suggests, it's just a parable about survival of the fittest.

cert 15 themes, violence, language, drugs 13.Oct.10

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